A Belgian biotech firm claims it has developed a foolproof coronavirus antibody test that is 100 percent accurate.
Liege-based ZenTech said it had started making tens of thousands of its government-certified tests a week.
Zentech plans to roll them out in Belgium first before scaling up manufacturing to three million per month so the tests can be used in other European countries.
The devices detect if someone has previously had coronavirus and has since recovered, even if they are unaware they were infected. Results take 15 minutes.
Scientists say they are crucial for countries coming out of lockdown because they can tell who is likely to have immunity to the virus.
The announcement will raise hopes for antibody testing for the rest of world.
Meanwhile, Britain has clearly stated that it won’t roll out any antibody test that is less than 98 percent accurate.
There are two different types of antibody tests – one which is done at home and takes a few minutes, and another which is posted to a lab to be analysed.
Both versions of the test are carried out using a finger pricker to extract a blood sample. Zentech’s test is not suitable for home-use.
“The test’s sensitivity is 100 per cent – meaning all patients who have COVID-19 antibodies, we see them with our test,” Zentech founder and CEO, Jean-Claude Havaux told the MailOnline.
“We don’t want, and don’t intend for, these tests to be used by just anybody. It’s not a pregnancy test. It’s really pretty complicated to carry out and to interpret the results.”
He emphasised that the test kits were only for medical professionals, first in Belgium and then later in other countries in the EU and beyond.
Antibody tests are seen as a crucial tool for determining who has had COVID-19 – especially non-symptomatic carriers – and could therefore be immune to it.
Such tests could pave the way to allowing people to return to work as countries mull easing widespread lockdown measures.
That could be especially important for healthcare workers on the front line of the pandemic.
As a result, labs in several countries are racing to roll out huge numbers of reliable testing kits.
But the World Health Organization has warned that while reliable testing is welcome, the presence of COVID-19 antibodies is not proof that an individual is immune.
Even if there was immunity, it says, it is unknown how long it might last.
Dr Pascale Huynen, clinic head of the microbiology unit in Liege’s university hospital – which confirmed ZenTech’s test was reliable to 97 percent – echoed the WHO.
“Nobody knows if the (COVID-19) antibodies are protective,” she said.
She added that scientists also do not know how long immunity could last, or whether the new coronavirus might mutate around any initial immunity, as happens with the flu.
ZenTech’s test, she said, simply indicates whether a patient has ‘come into contact’ with COVID-19 with a positive or negative result. It does not show the level of antibody response.
But that in itself is useful for determining the spread of the virus in a population, and for patients who have not received a nasal swab tests that detect whether a person is in the infectious phase, thought to last around two weeks.