Health Minister Vaughan Gething has announced plans to introduce a smart test to identify if people have had coronavirus in Wales – helping them get back to work.
The new antibody blood test, which will be tested in the UK next week, will show if people have recently had the virus and potentially if they have immunity.
The current antigen test can only tell if someone has the virus and is only used if someone has symptoms of coronavirus or is living with someone who has those symptoms. Wales has been screening frontline staff with this test for a number of weeks, and is providing more tests and results every day.
Mr Gething announced a new plan for testing, which will see a wider range of suppliers providing coronavirus testing kits to Wales, to ensure testing capacity can be increased.
He said: “The new antibody test will be a massive leap forward in helping us respond to coronavirus. In the immediate term, it will help our critical workers – especially our frontline NHS and social care staff – return to work and provide life-saving care.
“This new test is vital to give them the confidence and keep them safe as they carry out their work to keep everyone else safe.”
The new antibody test will help people return to work quickly and safely. It will speed up the search for a vaccine and efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
Initially, it will be for frontline healthcare workers and the most vulnerable, but it will be expanded to other critical workers such as police, fire service and social care workers.
The antibody test will also be used in places where there have been clusters of the virus (like hospitals or prisons) to improve understanding of how it spreads.
The new Covid-19 testing plan for Wales includes steps to diversify the supply of antigen test kits after a company was unable to fulfil its agreement to supply its full volume of testing for Wales.
From next week, there will be capacity for 1,100 tests a day in Wales. By mid-April, up to 5,000 antigen tests a day will be provided to people admitted to hospitals with suspected coronavirus, frontline NHS staff and people who are classed as extremely vulnerable.
And a further 4,000 tests a day will be available to roll out antigen testing throughout Wales as part of a four-nation deal for the UK involving Thermo Fisher Scientific, Amazon, Boots, Royal Mail and Randox, which was announced by the UK Government yesterday.
This is in addition to the roll out of the antibody tests.
Mr Gething said: “It’s very disappointing a company with which we had a written agreement to provide tests is not able to honour that agreement. But this plan allows us to continue to increase testing capacity in our hospitals and community, drawing on a four-nation agreement.
“This, together with the introduction of the antibody test, means we will have a much better understanding of the virus in Wales.”
The testing plan also includes investing in developing new tests and in genomics to understand the virus and how to bring the pandemic to an end.