The UK government has asked Amazon and other companies to use their services to urgently increase the supply of coronavirus testing to front-line health and social care workers.
In a move that would have been unthinkable in the health sector largely funded by the British state before the Covid-19 crisis, the government is in talks with companies to increase the availability of tests for health workers, according to two public health officials.
Companies with an established delivery infrastructure would initially help provide testing for medical and social workers, and then the general public. Another option being explored is the idea of later sending test kits to people at home.
Workers in hospitals and nursing homes across the country have expressed growing frustration with the lack of testing. Without knowing whether they have been infected with the virus, they do not know whether they should go to work if they have mild symptoms and put their dependents at risk, or stay at home and do more work. colleagues.
An online petition calling for testing NHS front-line staff has collected more than a million signatures.
The tests have become a flashpoint in the global fight to contain the Covid-19 epidemic. The World Health Organization has said that it is vital that governments “test, test, test” as widely as possible so that infected people and all those they have contacted can be isolated, and that authorities understand the spread of the infection.
The UK has run up to 5,000 tests a day, but health officials said last week that they hoped that number would reach 10,000 a day this week, 25,000 in four weeks, and then 250,000.
While tests to detect if people have the virus are a priority, officials are also examining whether companies could help provide a new antibody test – described as a “game changer” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson – that people could use to see if they have been infected with the virus in the past.
A person familiar with British discussions said that, according to one proposal, regular tests and antibody tests could be ordered online from Amazon’s website and then picked up by couriers from the US retail company. and delivered to a private diagnostic company.
This person stated that the test results would be sent to Public Health England, a government agency, and to the person who had been tested.
Amazon and the UK health service declined to comment. But an official confirmed that the ministers were about to invite a series of companies to develop proposals to provide the front-line workers and those who isolate themselves at home with the virus test.
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The antibody test would show who had the virus and therefore may have developed immunity against the virus.
Knowledge would enhance the safety of hospital staff and could potentially give scientists a more precise idea of when enough people had developed resistance to allow schools, restaurants and pubs to reopen.
Robert Jenrick, secretary of the communities, said on Sunday that the government was on the verge of obtaining “millions” of antibody tests and expected them to be available in the coming weeks.
Public health experts agree that the antibody test could be transformative, although it is not clear how long it will take to produce a test with guaranteed accuracy.
The use of private companies to collect data on people’s health would normally be controversial. But some public health experts believe that the urgency of the coronavirus crisis would allay these concerns.
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