Public will be asked to give blood samples for antibody screening

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Members of the public are to be asked to provide blood samples from next month for a test which can tell them if they have had the coronavirus.

The screening for antibodies – which people who have recovered from the virus build up – is to be carried out at random to give the first indication what the rate of infection is in the population.

Although the number of confirmed cases of the virus stands at 24,315, the real number who have been infected is likely to run into hundreds of thousands, with some scientists believing around 6pc of the population may have had the virus so far.

Antibodies may provide immunity from re-infection, although the extent and duration of this is still unclear.

Other countries have used these tests to help plot their route out of lockdown.

And as more is discovered about the virus, it could provide some confidence as the country proceeds to riskier phases of the roadmap exiting lockdown, including the opening of pubs.

Dr Cillian De Gascun of the National Virus Reference Laboratory in UCD said he hopes to finalise the proposal and get ethical approval by the end of this month. The tests would then be rolled out from June.

A decision on which test should be used will be made next week.

He said: “The logistical arrangements are yet to be finalised. It will be a targeted representative sample of the population from distinct geographic areas.

“I would expect the final decision on the test to be used in the next week or so.”

He said the sample would aim to be representative of the wider population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and other factors.

It may involve two different regions – one of a high prevalence and one of a low prevalence.

The first testing will provide a baseline to allow the exercise to be repeated at intervals in different geographical areas.

“An invitation will be made to the general public. We want to get a baseline first across the general population.”

It has yet to be clarified how it will work in practice, but each person would get their own result.

A blood test is likely to be taken by a nurse or doctor and the result could be available on the same day.

The UK has already agreed to adopt a test made by the drug company Roche and has parked an earlier plan to provide kits to people’s homes because, after assessment, it was found they could not be relied upon.

It is thought that many people here – up to 50pc of those who got the virus – were asymptomatic and unaware they had the infection.

Others would have felt sick and self-isolated at home but were not tested because only priority groups were eligible for a long time.

Scientists believe the majority of people who have had the virus have got some form of antibody response.

However, there are unknowns such as how strong the response was in people who were affected in a mild or asymptomatic way.

People who have the antibodies will continue to be expected to practise physical distancing and other safety precautions.

Over time it will become clearer if people can look forward to a long stretch without re-infection.

Irish Independent

Source: Irish News