Professor John Newton, the national coordinator of the UK Coronavirus Testing Programme, said: “We were confident that good quality antibody tests would become available when they were needed.  

“Last week, scientific experts at PHE Porton Down carried out an independent evaluation of the new Roche SARS-CoV-2 serology assay in record time, concluding that it is a highly specific assay with specificity of 100 per cent.  

“This is a very positive development because such a highly specific antibody test is a very reliable marker of past infection. This in turn may indicate some immunity to future infection although the extent to which the presence of antibodies indicates immunity remains unclear.”

On Wednesday night, Jeremy Hunt, the chairman of the health select committee and a former Health Secretary, said: “This is potentially very exciting news for people who work in the NHS and care sector who have been most exposed to the virus. 

“If we can establish that antibodies give you immunity, it would mean that you can go back to work safely. As soon as we can be certain that antibodies give you long-lasting immunity, I would expect significant orders to be placed.”

Steve Brine, a former health minister, described the move as a “potential game-changer,” telling The Telegraph it could help improve public confidence to return to work as the lockdown is lifted. 

He added that, if the scientific advice suggested that antibodies could provide immunity or a high level of it, the Government should move quickly to purchase enough kits for the UK population.

“I’d want to be confident of the science behind it, and what’s more confident than the epidemiology which tells us that once you’ve had the antibody you can’t get it again?” he said. 

“There is still no consensus in the scientific community. But potentially it is a game-changer, not just for frontline workers but also for the wider population who could take great confidence from this to turn baby steps into bigger steps.

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