New Test Can Detect Coronavirus in 90 Minutes

Health authorities have announced that a new test which can detect conditions such as coronavirus and influenza on 90 minutes will be rolled out in care homes and testing laboratories next week.

Regular testing of care home residents and staff was meant to have started on 6th July, but officials now say this might not be in place until the end of the first week of September.

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A Department of Health spokedman said: “A combination of factors have meant that a more limited number of testing kits, predominantly used in care homes, are currently available for asymptomatic re-testing and we are working round the clock with providers to restore capacity.”

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Safety concerns

Last month, the government withdrew one brand of home-testing kit used in care homes over safety concerns.

Rather than having to be sent away to a lab, the new test can be done on the spot without specialist training, and can distinguish between COVID-19 and seasonal illnesses such as flu. The test consists of a swab and a DNA analysis, and was developed by Nanopore technology of Oxford.

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At the moment, most test results take 24 hours to return, and some take up to two days. The LamPORE essay runs on two machines, MinION, which can run up to 768 samples at a time, and GridION, which has five times that capacity.

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The LamPORE system uses a process called LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) and RNA sequencing to detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a sample.

Isothermal amplification has been used successfully alongside RNA sequencing previously for the analysis of the malaria parasite Plasmodium, leishmaniasis and dengue virus, providing a simple and fast way to amplify a specific target.

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The LamPORE assay can be performed on extracted RNA from swabs, and is also in development to enable working directly from saliva.

Almost half a million of the new rapid swab tests will be available from next week in adult care settings and laboratories, with millions more due to be rolled out later in the year.

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Chains of transmission

Thousands more DNA test machines, which have already been used in eight London hospitals and can analyse nose swabs, will be rolled out across NHS hospitals from September. The Department of Health says they will provide 5.8 million tests in the coming months.

Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, said: “Millions of new rapid coronavirus tests will provide on-the-spot results in under 90 minutes, helping us to break chains of transmission quickly.

“The fact these tests can detect flu as well as Covid-19 will be hugely beneficial as we head into winter, so patients can follow the right advice to protect themselves and others.”

Another form of testing, DNANudge, which is mainly marketed as a nutrition metabolism test, will also be rolled out to NHS testing facilities.

The news comes as the government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme starts. There are 72,000 participating restaurants, cafes and pubs offering 50 percent off meals from Monday to Wednesday, from August 3rd to 31st, up to a maximum of £10 per diner. Establishments will then claim a reimbursement from the government for the discount they’ve given you.

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Local guidelines

However, the government has back-pedalled on plans to ease lockdown restrictions in certain high-risk locations.

Until 15 August at the earliest:

  • Casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and remaining close contact services must remain closed.
  • Indoor performances will not resume.
  • Pilots of larger crowds in sports venues and conference centres will not take place.
  • Wedding receptions of up to 30 people will not be permitted, but ceremonies can continue to take place, in line with COVID-Secure guidelines.

If you’re in an area under local lockdown, you should follow local guidelines. Local restaurants may still appear in the results when you use the restaurant finder tool on the Eat Out to Help Out website, but they may not be open.

In Leicester, the first UK city to have a localised lockdown, pubs and restaurants will reopen from Monday 3rd August as a number of restrictions are lifted. Some of them have been closed for four months.

Meanwhile in Greater Manchester a “major incident” was declared on Sunday evening in response to rising rates of COVID-19.

The new restrictions announced on Thursday, which also apply in east Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire, ban separate households from meeting each other at home, and members of two different households from mixing in pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues, though those businesses are permitted to remain open for those visiting individually or from the same household.

While the guidelines remain unchanged, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), which is made up of ten councils – Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan, said that the major incident alert was made to enable public agencies to access any additional resources they need as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“This is no more than a boost to our capabilities… and maximise our resources in the drive to reverse the spike in infection which we have witnessed in the last seven to 10 days” a spokesman said.

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Worst affected

Greater Manchester boroughs are among the top 20 worst affected local authority areas for COVID-19 infections in England, with Oldham, the second worst affected borough in the country, seeing its seven-day rate jumping from 41.6 to 62.8 per 100,000 people, with 148 new cases reported in the past week.

The latest government statistics showed 744 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in the 24 hours to 09:00 on Sunday, while Scotland’s national clinical director warned of going “backwards” over easing lockdown, after a cluster of coronavirus cases were linked to a pub in Aberdeen.

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