Britain plans to test a randomly chosen group of 100,000 people for COVID-19 as part of its efforts to understand infection rates better before loosening restrictions on the public, its health ministry said on Thursday.
The tests to see if people are currently infected with the respiratory disease, led by London’s Imperial College and polling company Ipsos MORI, follow a separate testing programme announced last week by the University of Oxford and the Office for National Statistics.
Britain’s government is due to review next week whether to relax a nationwide lockdown brought in on March 23 to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 26,000 people in Britain.
Improving capacity to track infection rates in different parts of Britain is seen by the health ministry as essential to ease restrictions safely.
Britain has suffered from limited testing capacity and Health Minister Matt Hancock promised to increase the number of tests to 100,000 a day by the end of April. On Tuesday, just over 52,000 tests were carried out.
The Imperial College programme will shortly contact 100,000 people across England at random and send them self-testing kits to see if they are infected.
A later part of the study will test the public’s ability to self-administer antibody tests that show whether someone has had COVID-19 but is no longer infected, which may confer some immunity against the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
So far, British officials have not found an antibody test that works reliably enough to roll out on a large scale.