Coronavirus testing: What we know so far

The Government has tested more than than 2,000 NHS workers for coronavirus as it continues to face mounting pressure to increase its testing capacity.

As of 9am on April 1, a total of 152,979 people have been tested for Covid-19 in the UK, of which 29,474 tested positive, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.

The latest Public Health England figures show that 10,412 tests were carried out on Tuesday, while the testing capacity for inpatient care stands at 12,799 per day.

Here is what we know about testing so far:

– Who gets a test?

Tests have so far been focused on those admitted to hospital, with anyone with milder symptoms told to self-isolate at home.

It means many people, including frontline healthcare workers, could be isolating for no reason after contracting ordinary seasonal ailments like coughs and colds.

The self-isolation instruction is also in force if someone in your home suffers symptoms that could be Covid-19.

But the Government has vowed to rapidly increase testing for healthcare staff, with more than 2,000 frontline NHS workers tested so far.

Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director of PHE, said there is currently capacity for around 3,000 tests for frontline staff, which will increase.

Will testing be rolled out to the general population?

Prof Doyle, said at a press conference on Wednesday that the strategy is to increase testing not just on health workers, but “in the population” too.

Some experts think mass testing of the community must be a priority in order to ease the lockdown restrictions.

Anthony Costello, professor of global health and sustainable development at University College London, said mass testing would give the country a “control mechanism” to lift the lockdown without having to wait until effective drugs or a vaccine has been found.

– What does the test involve?

Coronavirus swab
Coronavirus swab

A test for those suspected to be suffering from Covid-19 involves a deep swab of the nose or the back of the throat. These are sent off to a lab to be analysed for the genetic sequence particular to the coronavirus.

But a blood test can be used for patients believed to have had the condition and since recovered.

The finger-prick test identifies the antibodies produced inside you to fight off an infection, indicating that the patient may have near-immunity from the disease for at least 28 days.

– Where can I get a test?

Coronavirus testing
Coronavirus testing

The majority of tests so far have been carried out in hospitals or in people’s homes, with a small amount of random sampling via GP surgeries.

But some unusual locations have been set up as mass testing sites.

Furniture giant Ikea has set up a drive-through testing centre for frontline NHS staff at its store in Wembley, north-west London.

Meanwhile, Boots is setting up another drive-through system at its headquarters in Nottingham and more sites are being sourced around the country.

Currently, these facilities are reserved for NHS staff and by invitation only.

Tests have also been carried out in the car park of Surrey theme park Chessington World of Adventures.

-What is the UK’s target?

New coronavirus cases in the UK
New coronavirus cases in the UK

The NHS is aiming to get to 25,000 of these tests per day, with the ultimate aim being several hundred thousand, but health officials say this target will not be met until the end of April.

Prof Doyle said there is currently capacity for around 3,000 tests for frontline NHS staff, which will increase.

She said on Wednesday: “But the important capacity is in the second strand where we have five centres where people can drive through and get their testing done in order of priority.

“NHS chief executives are identifying that priority and the intention here is to get from thousands to hundreds of thousands within the coming weeks.”

Why will it take so long?

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said at Tuesday’s Downing Street press conference that a “critical constraint” on the ability to rapidly increase testing capacity in the UK is the availability of chemical reagents.

He said Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock were working with companies worldwide to ensure the UK gets the material needed to increase tests “of all kinds”.

The Chemical Industries Association responded: “While there is of course an escalating demand, there are reagents being manufactured and delivered to the NHS.

“Every business here in the UK and globally is looking at what they can do to help meet the demand as a matter of urgency.

“To clarify the exact NHS need and meet it, all relevant UK industries are continuing to work closely with Government.”