AN on-the-spot coronavirus test that gives results in 15 to 30 minutes is set to be rolled out globally.
The rapid kits work in a similar way to a pregnancy test and display two blue lines when testing positive for Covid-19.
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They work by taking a nasal swab and inserting the sample into a cartridge that looks for antigens – or proteins found on the surface of the virus.
They differ from the current nasal/throat swabs and finger prick tests because they don't need a lab to produce results.
It means they are able to detect coronavirus infection within minutes, compared to the hours of days necessary for the genetic tests, known as PCR tests, to turnaround results.
They are also far cheaper – with each one costing just £3.90, or $5, however they are generally considered less accurate than lab-based tests.
The World Health Organization last week approved the tests – which have been hailed a landmark in the fight against the bug – for emergency use.
It's hoped the tests will improve capacity of lower and middle-income countries who lack enough laboratory resources or trained health workers to properly carry out PCR tests.
They will also allow health care workers to get a better grip on where the virus is circulating in poorer countries, in hopes of following up with containment and other measures to stop it.
US drugs giant Abbott and South Korean manufacturer SD Biosensor, which produces the tests – have agreed to supply 133 low-income countries.
The WHO and the Bill and Melisa Gates Foundations have agreed to deploy 120 million rapid-diagnostics tests and said the £467million project ($600million) could begin as early as next month.
Catharina Boehme, chief executive of a non-profit group called the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, said the initial rollout would take place across 20 countries in Africa.
Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund, a partnership that works to end epidemics, said the tests represent a "significant step" in the effort to combat and contain the virus on a global scale.
He said: "They're not a silver bullet, but hugely valuable as a complement to PCR tests."
While poorer countries will primarily benefit from the rapid-antigen tests, wealthier countries who have signed up to the Access to Covid tools initiative, which the UK has, will also be given access to them.
They represent a potential boon to the Government's Operation Moonshot scheme for mass testing, though it is not clear if they intend to buy these tests.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously said mass testing was the nation's "best chance" of reducing social distancing measures without having a vaccine.
Former prime minister Tony Blair has called on the Government to adopt the rapid antigen tests, saying they could enable an extra 300,000 coronavirus tests to be carried out every day within a few weeks.
However Baroness Dido Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, warned companies and individuals could be forced to foot the bill for the swift turnaround tests as they were too unreliable for use within the health service.
But she said those without symptoms might choose to pay for the tests to act as a kind of Covid-19 passport to allow them to take part in non-socially distanced activities.
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