A GAME-changing £5 Covid saliva test which gives results in 15 minutes is odds-on to be available before Christmas, it was claimed last night.
Officials say the rapid, on-the-spot swabs will help keep offices and schools open during the second wave.
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A 15-minute saliva swab test could cut queues at drive-through test centres[/caption]
A negative result may also allow restricted Brits back to the footie, pub or theatre, according to a well-placed government source.
They could even help ease strict shielding guidelines and let families visit relatives who have been isolated in care homes.
Field trials of several swabs have begun across England after passing strict checks at government labs.
Students at De Montford and Durham universities are already using them, as well as children at three schools in the South.
Scientists claim they are on course to hit their target of trialling each swab test on 10,000 people in a matter of weeks.
A government source said: “They are pretty exciting. Rapid-turnaround, relatively inexpensive tests are the future. We have something that’s 15 minutes which is pretty close to being ready.
“These are not complicated. They are tests you can do at a university, school or workplace with no specialist training or equipment.
“I’d be very surprised if we were not in good shape by Christmas for these tests.”
Field trials of several swabs have begun across England after passing strict checks at government labs[/caption]
Health bosses plan to roll out millions before the end of the year if all goes well, to help make schools and offices Covid-secure.
Users simply take a swab from inside the mouth or nostril, then mix it with a solution.
A few drops are placed on to the testing stick and a line quickly forms if the virus is detected.
Scientists have given the kits to untrained teens to check ease of use — with a valid result successfully obtained in minutes.
The source added: “Everybody’s really depressed because this second wave is much worse than anybody thought it was going to be.
“But it’s important to remember we have a lot of stuff in play that’s going to take the pressure off.
“The rapid-turnaround test will add a whole other dimension to our testing capabilities.”
They are pretty exciting. Rapid-turnaround, relatively inexpensive tests are the future. We have something that’s 15 minutes which is pretty close to being ready.
News of the breakthrough emerged as a row broke out over families meeting at Christmas.
Boris Johnson remains optimistic that scientific advances will allow millions to enjoy a relatively normal festive period.
A No 10 spokesman said: “The PM has been clear previously he is hopeful that in many ways we could be able to get some aspects of our lives back to normal by Christmas. We’ve been clear about the ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year.”
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay also hoped families could spend it together even if things are not exactly the same.
But a top government scientific adviser warned the idea “is wishful thinking in the extreme”. Professor John Edmunds, of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said “radical action” is needed to stem cases, especially in high-risk regions. Other scientists yesterday welcomed news of the arrival of cheap and quick tests.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said they could give us a “big advantage” in the Covid fight.
He added: “It is absolutely good news if they are shown to work. There is no doubt it would be very helpful if we had this sort of cheap accurate testing for a whole host of areas.”
Brits could also be tested before seeing the dentist or getting a haircut to slash spread.
The Government is expected to foot the testing bill but it is unclear if private firms will cover costs for workers or how they would be distributed.
Officials are also ramping up centralised testing capacity, with another Lighthouse Lab to open in Plymouth. Ministers pledge to hit 500,000 daily swabs by the end of the month. Current capacity has reached 380,000 — with a record 340,132 tests processed yesterday.
It comes as the R rate, how many each case infects, fell since last week. It is now between 1.2 to 1.4, down from 1.3 to 1.5.
Sage said it is “almost certain… infections continue to grow”. But it admitted the stats do not yet reflect the introduction of tougher restrictions in Tier 2 and 3 areas. Daily Covid cases are now estimated to be 35,200, up from 27,900 a week ago, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Despite infections still rising, experts claim the rate of growth has slowed in recent days.
Prof James Naismith, Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, said: “The doubling time might have increased to three weeks. If so, this is a hopeful sign the rate of increase is slowing down.”
A further 224 people died of Covid yesterday — taking the UK total to 44,571. New daily infections were 20,530, the lowest since Monday.
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