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Coronavirus: Screening

Question for Department of Health and Social Care

UIN HL4550, tabled on 18 May 2020

To ask Her Majesty's Government how (1) assumptions about future immunity to COVID-19 from past infection, and (2) existing COVID-19 test results, are informing their strategy for antibody testing; and what plans they have to use antibody testing as an epidemiological survey tool to (a) evaluate past infection of particular individuals, or (b) inform future policy making.

Answered on

3 June 2020

A positive antibody test demonstrates that someone has COVID-19 antibodies. The presence of COVID-19 antibodies signals that the body has staged an immune response to COVID-19. COVID-19 is a new disease, and our understanding of the body’s immune response to it is limited. We do not know, for example, how long an antibody response lasts, nor whether having antibodies means a person cannot transmit the virus to others. Our understanding of the virus will grow as new scientific evidence and studies emerge.

We are conducting some of the biggest surveys in the world, using lab-based tests to find out what proportion of the population have already had the virus. This work includes four major surveillance studies with Public Health England, the Office for National Statistics, IPSOS MORI and UK Biobank, designed to understand the current and future prevalence of COVID-19 in the wider population. We will be able to share further details of the results of these studies in due course. Information on levels of infection will inform our future plans for rolling out antibody tests.