It is hoped that the NHS will be able to test hundreds of thousands of people per day in the coming weeks.
At the daily coronavirus briefing on March 25, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, reiterated the need for UK access to coronavirus antibody tests.
But he added there is a shortage of tests worldwide, which is causing a “bottleneck”.
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He said: “We do not have sufficient testing and this is a global problem because basically every country is wanting this new test, for a disease that wasn’t actually being tested for anywhere three months ago.
“So everybody wants this, so there is a global shortage and that’s a bottleneck for us.”
If such tests were available, key workers such as NHS staff would be able to return to work if they have developed antibodies for the virus.
Data on the spread of the virus would also be more accurate if the number of tests could be stepped up, as the scale of the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK is currently unclear.
When will coronavirus testing kits be available?
Professor Sharon Peacock, Director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England (PHE), told the Science and Technology Committee this week that 3.5 million tests had been bought for this purpose.
Professor Peacock added the tests would be available in the “near future”, and could be distributed via online retailer Amazon and stores such as Boots.
A small number of the tests will first need to be tested in a laboratory before they can be distributed to the public.
Professor Peacock added: “Once we are assured that they do work, they will be rolled out into the community.
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“Taking the test is a small matter and I anticipate that it will be done by the end of this week.
“In the near future people will be able to order a test that they can test themselves, or go to Boots, or somewhere similar to have their finger prick test done.”
The UK is currently ramping up its efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Johnson announced today more than 400,000 people have already signed up to volunteer for the NHS.
The new volunteer scheme was announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier this week, who requested a number of volunteers to help with food and medicine provision.
All people are being urged to stay at home, except in certain circumstances such as buying food or taking daily exercise.
People are allowed to travel to work under the current measures, but only when it is absolutely necessary to leave their homes.
The current measures will be in place for at least three weeks, but the PM said the measures could be relaxed if the evidence supports this.
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