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UK approves antibody test for use



A member of staff holds a self testing kit at a coronavirus test site in Poole, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Poole, Britain, May 2, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

The United Kingdom has finally approved an antibody test that medics will use to identify people who have previously been infected with the novel coronavirus, a major step forward in the nation's monitoring of the virus and the COVID-19 disease it causes.

Until now, tests only identified people with active infections.

The blood test will be particularly useful if scientists can establish that people who were infected in the past acquire immunity because they can be identified and potentially return to work and relatively normal lives.

Public Health England approved the test developed by Switzerland-based pharmaceutical giant Roche after previously refusing to sanction several other candidates.

The test was evaluated at the government's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down, where it was found to be "highly specific".

The BBC quoted John Newton, coordinator of the UK's novel coronavirus testing program, as saying: "This is a very positive development because such a highly specific antibody test is a very reliable marker of past infection. This, in turn, may indicate some immunity to future infection."

Regulators in the European Union and the United States have also approved the test.

The government had additional good news around testing on Thursday when ministers revealed that 126,064 active-infection tests were carried out, well above the 100,000-tests-a-day target.

At the daily briefing, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said another 428 people with COVID-19 had died, taking the national total to 33,614.But he said the cohort of COVID-19 patients in hospital is now 14 percent smaller than it was a week ago.

And he outlined how the government has used the quiet of the lockdown to complete massive upgrades of the road and rail network.

Experts, meanwhile, have warned it will take several months for the National Health Service to return to a pre-pandemic level of service.

The revelation comes as new numbers show people are staying away from hospital A&E departments because of virus fears. In April, 916,581 patients visited an A&E, compared to the monthly average of 2.1 million.

Three think tanks working to restore full hospital services-Nuffield Trust, King's Fund, and Health Foundation-said the need for personal protective equipment, additional cleaning, and other considerations mean it will take time for things to return to normal in many hospital departments.

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said: "With the virus still at large, there is no easy route back to the way things were before; unfortunately that will mean people waiting much longer and some services being put on hold."

The think tanks also said COVID-19 wards should not be scaled back because there could be a second wave of virus infections.

And hospitals are also on guard against a rare inflammatory disease that affects children and that is linked to the novel coronavirus.

Several children in the UK, the US, Spain, Italy, France, and the Netherlands have been diagnosed with the condition, which is similar to toxic shock syndrome and that has symptoms including a fever, rash, red eyes, swelling, and general pain, as well as heart and circulation issues that often require treatment with a ventilator.

Up to 100 children in the UK have been diagnosed with the condition, with many also testing positive for novel coronavirus.

Liz Whittaker, a clinical lecturer in pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Imperial College London, told the BBC: "You've got the COVID-19 peak and then, three or four weeks later, we're seeing a peak in this new phenomenon which makes us think that it's a post-infectious phenomenon."

Doctors said most children have responded well to treatment and made full recoveries.

The damage the virus has caused the UK's economy became clearer on Thursday when Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said it is now "very likely" the country will see a "significant recession" in 2020. His comments came amid reports that the economy contracted by 2 percent during the first three months of 2020, its fastest rate of shrinkage since the 2008 financial crisis.

The Office for National Statistics also said household spending has shrunk at the fastest pace for 11 years.

The Office for Budget Responsibility added on Thursday that the government's anti-virus initiatives will cost 123 billion pounds ($150 billion).

The dire economic news was accompanied by one of the UK's largest transport unions threatening industrial action on Thursday over concerns about the safety of its members.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, said he will call a strike if the government's guidelines, which call for transit passengers to keep 2 meters apart and wear face coverings, are ignored.

The Financial Times reported that Shapps, the transport secretary, responded by saying: "We are asking people to be very sensible and not flood back to public transport…there will not be enough space."

Union leaders representing workers in other sectors have also expressed concern about the welfare of their members as the UK loosens its lockdown and more people leave their homes.

The Guardian newspaper said nine unions representing hundreds of thousands of teachers, school leaders, and support staff have told the government it should abandon ideas of reopening some schools on June 1 because of the risk it would pose to people's health.