Coronavirus: Key questions answered on Covid-19 testing

Credit: PA

As the world grapples to control the coronavirus pandemic, the government has announced two new tests for coronavirus and flu.

The tests have been hailed as a crucial instrument in the fight against the pandemic, especially as the UK heads into the colder months.

The new Covid-19 tests, which can return results in just 90 minutes, are to be deployed in hospitals, care homes and laboratories from next week.

Here, we look at the key questions surrounding coronavirus testing:

There are two main tests used to detect coronavirus infection - nasal/throat swabs and finger-prick blood tests. Credit: PA

How many different types of Covid-19 tests are there?

There are currently two main tests used to detect coronavirus infection: nasal/throat swabs and finger-prick blood tests.

The swab test, which involves a deep swab of the nose or the back of the throat, is used to determine whether someone is currently infected with Covid-19.

Meanwhile the finger-prick test is used to identify the presence of Covid-19 antibodies in a person’s blood, which would signify prior infection.

In April, the Government set a target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month. Credit: PA Images

What is an antibody test?

The antibody test also known as a serology test is done after full recovery of coronavirus by testing your blood for antibodies.

If antibodies are found in the sample it means that your immune system has developed antibodies against Covid-19, and that you have shown some immunity to the virus.

Antibodies are proteins that our immune systems develop to fight against the virus.

Accurate antibody testing allows people who have recovered from coronavirus to donate plasma, which can be used to treat others suffering with the virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that there is a lack of evidence that shows whether having antibodies protects you from reinfection.

WHO says there is a lack of evidence to show whether having antibodies protects you from reinfection Credit: PA

What is a diagnostic test?

A diagnostic test, or antigen/molecular test is the collection of genetic material of the virus by swabbing your throat, nose or saliva.

With this type of testing results can be analysed quickly and the NHS aims to get results within 72 hours.

This test currently forms the basis of reported case numbers in the UK.

The antigen test also has a self-test kit available for at home testing.

A Covid-19 self testing kit. Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

What are some of the problems with the current testing methods?

While the tests are incredibly useful in the fight against the pandemic, they are not without fault.

The swab test in particular is very invasive and uncomfortable, while concerns linger over the accuracy and reliability of the antibody tests.

The current tests also take a substantial amount of time to be processed, with most people taking between 24 and 72 hours to receive their results.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK Credit: PA Graphics

What is different about the new tests?

The excitement surrounding the newly-announced tests stems mainly from the speed with which they are able to detect not just Covid-19 but also other seasonal illnesses.

This will be crucial as Britain heads into winter, as the tests will be able to quickly and easily identify whether sufferers will need to self-isolate.

It also provides a significant boost to contact-tracing capabilities, enabling authorities to more-rapidly intervene and break potential chains of transmission throughout the community.

Why is testing so important?

With so little still known about coronavirus and without an effective treatment method or vaccine, rapid and efficient testing is the most vital weapon we currently have against the pandemic.

AstraZeneca says testing has been paused while it investigates “a potentially unexplained illness” associated with its trials Credit: Simon Dawson/PA

Strenuous testing enables authorities to identify and mitigate the virus as it moves through the community, enabling authorities to concentrate restriction methods solely on areas with high rates of transmission, saving the country and economy from having to endure another nation-wide lockdown.

Where will the new tests be available?

The tests supplied by Oxford Nanopore, will see almost half a million tests, called LamPORE swab tests made available from next week across adult care settings and laboratories, with millions more due to be rolled out next year.

How much testing is being done in England?

According to the Gov.UK website, 115,939 coronavirus tests were carried out on Sunday, while almost 8.4 million tests have been carried out since the outbreak began.

On April 2, the Government set a target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month.

However there are doubts as to whether this target had been met.

At the government’s daily briefing on May 1, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said testing figures had hit 122,347 on April 30.

But those figures included the number of home tests (27,497) that had been sent out as well as the number of tests sent out to satellite sites (12,872), suggesting the number of tests actually processed was closer to around 81,978.

And last month it was revealed that Boris Johnson failed to meet his target of having all coronavirus tests completed within 24 hours by the end of June, with statistics from the Department of Health and Social Care suggesting only 91% of in-person tests were completed within the timeframe between June 25 and July 1.