New coronavirus test could give results in “less than half an hour”

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A new type of coronavirus test could give results in less than half an hour, London researchers have said.

The nasal swab test would cut test waiting times for Covid-19 and could be a “game changer”, scientists believe.

The UK government is carrying out 10,000 virus tests every day – but ministers have been widely criticised for not going further faster.

The World Health Organisation says tackling coronavirus without widespread testing is like fighting a fire with a blindfold on.

NHS staff in particular have called for more tests so they can find out quickly if they have Covid-19 and get back to work quickly if they test negative.

Coronavirus swabs currently use a method known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR): testers take a swab from the back of a patient’s throat or deep in the nose, and the sample is then sent to a lab for analysis.

The test normally takes a few hours to process, but transportation to centralised labs adds time to the process.

Another problem is the chemical mix used in the test – the Government says some of the key reagents are in short supply globally, as countries scramble to test their citizens.

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But scientists at Kings College London (KCL) say a dry nose swab could produce results in just 25 minutes – and bypass the chemical shortage.

The same technique has previously been used for tuberculosis and norovirus, and uses magnetic beads rather than chemical enzymes to activate the test.

The team of scientists from KCL and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust have now trialled the test at a London care home suffering an outbreak of Covid-19.

In the small sample, the dry swab caught 80% of cases picked up by the standard test, and found another three patients who had the virus.

Researchers say this method could be used away from labs and does not need a skilled technician to carry it out.

It could be helpful for rapid testing in care homes, hostels, prisons and hospitals, they suggest.

Dr Claire Steves, who led the trial, said: “A cost effective and efficient diagnostic tool would be a game changer in current testing, getting quicker results to the point of care.

“This is a small real-world study, but we hope it will stimulate more interest and evaluation of this testing solution.”

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