Covid: 30-minute coronavirus tests accurate enough for UK rollout

Liverpool have been conducting mass coronavirus testing in the community. Credit: PA

Coronavirus tests which provide results in less than 30 minutes are accurate enough to be used in the wider community, a new study has found.

Research carried out by Public Health England and the University of Oxford show Lateral Flow Tests, which do not need to be sent away to a lab for processing, can detect Covid-19 in those with symptoms and asymptomatic people.

The rapid turnaround tests have been used in Liverpool as part of a city-wide testing pilot scheme, which have shown more than 99.6% specificity (accuracy), the Department for Health and Social Care said.

Swabbing and processing of the new lateral tests needs to be conducted by healthcare professionals but officials are looking into how the tests can be self-administered.

As well as piloting the tests across England, ministers also commissioned a review of the specificity and sensitivity of the tests in different settings.

It is hoped the tests can be used to bring down the number of Covid-19 infections in the community, particularly in asymptomatic cases.

People queue at a Coronavirus testing centre at the Liverpool Tennis Centre Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

This would in turn help identify those who unknowingly have the virus and enable those who test positive and their contacts to isolate, further bringing the R rate (rate of transmission) down.

Schools, universities and workplace settings could all be set to benefit from the newly approved tests.

Health Minister Lord Bethell said: “We are absolutely committed to using the latest testing technology to make asymptomatic testing available in more areas.

“It is right we’ve taken a dual-track approach to evaluating this technology – by piloting them in the field so we can understand how to best to make these tests available, and by getting our world-leading academics and clinicians to undertake rigorous evaluation of their ability to detect the virus.

“I’m delighted that both are already demonstrating that lateral flow tests can be the reliable, highly sensitive technology we need to help get this virus under control, and return to as close to normality as possible.”

People queuing outside a walk-in coronavirus test centre at Allerton Library in Liverpool. Credit: PA images

Speaking earlier this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 66 local authorities will be getting the new rapid turnaround Covid tests.

A full list of the 66 boroughs which will be getting the rapid tests is available here.

Mr Hancock also said that mass testing, like any future vaccine rollout, would be across the UK not just England.

He said: "The UK government has bought the vaccine for the whole of the UK and it will be rolled out fairly across the whole of the UK with the same prioritisation no matter where you live in this country.

"The same goes for mass testing, making sure we roll that out across the whole UK."