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Morning briefing: Accurate Covid antibody test on horizon

Good morning.

Public Health England has approved the UK’s first coronavirus antibody test kit. Antibody tests will be crucial in determining who has previously had the virus, and up until now, the government had not found a reliable kit. Now, ministers are negotiating with the Swiss company Roche to buy millions of units and potentially roll them out nationwide, the Telegraph reports.

The test is lab-based, not the pregnancy test-style home test kit that Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously said would be a “gamechanger” – but it is highly accurate, and could be a step on the road towards accurate home testing. However, we still do not know for certain that antibodies provide immunity to Covid-19. The approval of the test kits makes that tranche of research all the more urgent.

Meanwhile, health experts have warned that restarting NHS services could take months, and could potentially be a bigger challenge than tackling the first wave of the virus. Later today, health think tanks the Health Foundation, Nuffield Trust and King’s Fund will give evidence to a committee of MPs, and ahead of the meeting they warned about the impact of exhausted staff, the lack of personal protective equipment and difficulties managing the risk of infections, which will “severely limit capacity for many months”. They will be joined by Chris Hopson of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, who warned overnight that “expectations are already way ahead of reality”, and that the first wave of the virus was “just the first few laps of what we know will be a marathon”.

Lastly, the Guardian reports that social care directors in England warned ministers about the dangers of a pandemic to the care home sector in 2018. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Service, a representative body, warned that “demand for personal protective equipment could rapidly outstrip supply” and called for better infection control protocols. “We are not aware of whether government departments picked up on any of the recommendations set out,” it told the paper.

Global updates:

Europe: The European Parliament will today meet to discuss Hungary’s new coronavirus laws, including one that gives Prime Minister Viktor Orbán power to rule indefinitely by decree. Orbán will not attend the EU meeting.

Russia: Moscow officials said that the deaths of most coronavirus patients are due to other causes. The city attributes less than 40 per cent of coronavirus patient deaths to Covid-19, they said. Russia has the world’s second-highest number of confirmed cases but has recorded just 2,212 coronavirus-related deaths.

Japan: Japan is today expected to lift a state of emergency in 39 of its 47 prefectures.

New Zealand: Finance minister Grant Robertson has announced a NZ$50bn (£26.7bn) fund to reduce unemployment to pre-coronavirus levels within two years. The fund equates to around 17 per cent of national GDP. He called it “the most significant financial commitment in modern history”.

US: President Donald Trump has criticised Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease experts, for warning reopening state economies too early could cause a second spike of infections. Fauci’s comments were “not acceptable”, Trump said, adding that Fauci wanted “to play all sides of the equation”.

Australia: Australians lost nearly 600,000 jobs in April, but official unemployment figures only rose by one percentage point, to 6.2 per cent, because many people left the work force entirely.

China: The city of Wuhan has begun its campaign to test every resident in the city, following a small flare up of infections.

World: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that coronavirus “may never go away”. “It is important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities,” said Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief.

Read more on the New Statesman:

As we pass the pandemic’s peak, the NHS needs to adjust to life in the shadow of Covid-19

As lockdown is loosened, those with the least are being asked to bear the greatest risk

Dreaming of Covid-19

The problem with our response to Covid-19 wasn’t that we didn’t have a plan – it was the opposite

Why everyone should watch the BBC’s Covid-19 special Hospital

Pandemics and the politics of time

How plagues change the world

For one in ten of people, returning to work could be particularly dangerous
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