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UK spent £16,000,000 on coronavirus tests that didn’t work
Thursday 16 Apr 2020 8:15 pm
The government bought millions of antigen tests from China wrongly claiming to be able to detect coronavirus Government officials are scrambling for a refund after paying £16 million for coronavirus testing kits that did not work.
Downing Street paid the huge sum to two Chinese companies despite the technology behind the kits being unproven, the New York Times reports. AllTest Biotech and Wondfo Biotech, both said their products met the health, safety and environmental standards set by the European Union.
Public health officials reviewed the specifications on paper while the foreign office dispatched diplomats in China to ensure the companies existed and to examine their products. The gamble backfired as the tests, said to detect anitbodies for coronavirus, did not work, according to a senior civil servant.
Tests claiming to detect coronavirus through a person’s blood did not work (Picture: PA) A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care said the stocks were bought on the ‘basis of minimum initial volumes’ and said that where tests didn’t work, orders would be canceled and costs recovered ‘wherever possible’. Finding antibody tests that work is seen as a critical stage in the battle against coronavirus. For all the latest news and updates on Coronavirus, click here. For our Coronavirus live blog click here.
Unlike antigen tests, which determine if a person has tested positive or negative for Covid-19, antibody tests are supposed to be able to detect whether a person has already had coronavirus before, and has since recovered. The tests work by detecting a person’s blood for antibodies, meaning they could be done at home. The UK has lagged behind other countries in Europe in terms of its ability to test
After British officials complained about the faulty tests, both Chinese companies blamed British officials and politicians for misunderstanding or exaggerating the utility of the tests. Wondfo told Global Times, a Chinese newspaper, that its product was intended only as a supplement for patients who had already tested positive for the virus. AllTest said in a statement on its website that the tests were ‘only used by professionals’ not by patients at home.
The setback is likely to cause embarrassment for government ministers, who have faced criticism for the UK’s testing policy. While the government is aiming for 100,000 antigen tests a day by the end of April, just 15,994 tests were carried out in the 24 hours before 9am on Wednesday. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has blamed the slow testing on the lack of a major diagnostics industry in the UK compared to the likes of the US and Germany. Despite promises to build one, the UK is still lagging behind most countries in Europe when it comes to its capability to test.
Hancock: I am setting the goal of 100,000 tests per day by end of April
Accusations the government was slow to respond to the coronavirus crisis has led to ministers focusing their efforts on finding the blood tests, which would be key in deciding when lockdown is lifted if effective. The government has outlined plans for Britons to conduct antibody tests at home, with finger-prick kits that will be available from Amazon and Boots.
Last month, Boris Johnson said they had the potential to be ‘a total game changer’, and said they would be ‘as simple as a pregnancy test’. But scientists have cast doubt on the likelihood of such a test ever being reliable, as there is still so much unknown about Covid-19. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation have warned that rapid antibody tests ‘have limited utility’ for patients, telling doctors that they remained unfit for clinical purposes until they were proved to be accurate and effective. The Department of Health has been contacted for further comment.