“Once antibody testing is up and running we will be able to test those people for coronavirus, perhaps on a monthly basis, to find out how many of them, if any, get the virus for a second time.
“If after a month no-one has got the virus, we should be able to tell people we are confident it gives them immunity for at least a month. After two months we might be able to up that to two months, after a year we will know how much immunity it gives you in the first year, and so on.
“That’s when the health certificates will become useful – you will be able to use that document to show how long you have had antibodies and how long we think you are immune for.”
Both the Roche and Abbott tests have to be carried out in hospitals and processed in laboratories, meaning the UK still has no Government-approved, finger-prick antibody test that can be done at home.
The antibody tests will be rolled out in the same way as the existing virus tests, with NHS and care workers and their patients being given them first, followed by key workers, then essential workers and the elderly.
Professor Gavin Screaton, head of Oxford University’s Medical Sciences Division and an independent member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies [Sage], said the new test could be used to lift lockdown on a city or regional basis.
He said: “It’s incredibly useful information to have – which cities, which age groups have been infected.