I was pleased to hear on the BBC News this morning (2 April 2020) that the government is reaching out to smaller organisations to help in the UK COVID-19 testing programme. One of the labs asked to get involved was the Francis Crick Institute in London. The director, Sir Paul Nurse, likened the approach required to launching multiple small boats as happened at Dunkirk during the Second World War. We need multiple small test labs now to ramp up our testing requirements.
What was not clear from the news item was what type of test is to be contracted out. We need two types of testing:
- Antibody tests using immunoassay to find out if a person has had the virus. Estimates from experts vary widely as to this number with some saying up to half the UK population have been infected (https://www.livescience.com/half-the-uk-infected-coronavirus-covid19.html)
- Molecular tests to determine if a person has a COVID-19 infection or not. These tests rely on a technique called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). They require different equipment and skills compared with immunoassay (https://www.globalbiotechinsights.com/articles/20247/the-worldwide-test-for-covid-19)
Labs all over the country perform tens of thousands of tests each day and are capable of conducting COVID-19 tests. My view is that the government must approach all these labs as a matter of urgency. That way, we can launch the hundreds of small boats all at once. Accurate testing is invaluable to the control of this virus and the ongoing health of the population.
Can you help?
I am no expert on which UK science labs can do what and where they are located. So, through this blog, I am asking anyone with significant lab capabilities to conduct immunoassay or PCR tests to email Michael Gove MP (firstname.lastname@example.org). Let all of us help to ensure that the UK testing needs are met in double quick time. The faster we act, the more lives we save.