The Government is ramping up Covid-19 testing efforts, vowing to carry out 25,000 coronavirus tests per day as scientists scramble to develop faster and better methods.
One group of researchers has developed testing technology that can deliver results in 30 minutes.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also calling on industry to work with the Government to urgently develop new tests that determine whether people have developed immunity.
Officials are working on rapidly increasing the number of tests that can be conducted by Public Health England and the NHS in laboratories, with the expected surge in capacity ready within just four weeks.
There will be a focus on ensuring the highest priority cases are tested first.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are already among the best in the world for coronavirus testing and today we are launching a national effort to increase our testing capability even further.
“Our aim is to protect life, protect the most vulnerable, and relieve pressure on our NHS – so it is right that we prioritise testing for those most at risk of severe illness.”
The ramping up of testing will include developing a point-of-care swab test outside of hospitals, so people with suspected symptoms can quickly find out if they have coronavirus.
And officials have called on industry to help rapidly develop this test.
It is hoped the upscaling will help NHS and other critical public sector staff back to work as fast as possible.
The UK Government has already completed more than 50,000 tests, and it is thought that with increased capacity to 25,000 daily, testing levels could soon exceed that in China.
Meanwhile, researchers across the world are also working on improving current testing methods in hopes of yielding quicker results.
A team from the University of Oxford’s Engineering Science Department and the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (Oscar) has developed a new test, based on a technique which is capable of giving results in half-an-hour.
They say this is much faster than those that are being widely used and does not require a complicated instrument.
Previous viral RNA tests – using a sample of tissue or blood or other fluid – took one-and-a-half to two hours to give a result.
The team, led by Professor Zhanfeng Cui and Professor Wei Huang, has been working to improve test capabilities as the virus spreads internationally.
Prof Huang said: “The beauty of this new test lies in the design of the viral detection that can specifically recognise SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) RNA and RNA fragments.
“The test has built-in checks to prevent false positives or negatives and the results have been highly accurate.”
Scientists say the technology is very sensitive which means patients in early stages of infection may be identified sooner, potentially helping to reduce the spread.
The technology requires a simple heat-block which maintains a constant temperature, and the results can be read by the naked eye.
Researchers say this makes it potentially useful in rural areas and community healthcare centres.
The technology has been used on real clinical samples at Shenzhen Luohu People’s Hospital in China.
The hospital applied the rapid detection kits on 16 clinic samples, including eight positives and eight negatives, which have been confirmed by the conventional methods and other clinical evidence.
All of the test results using the rapid detection kits were successful.
The Oxford scientists are now working to develop an integrated device so that the test can be used at clinics, airports, and even in the home.