The Boris Johnson government on Thursday announced what it called a ‘major long-term study’ for antibody testing involving nearly 3 lakh people, as senior medical advisors dampened down normalcy expectations, insisting curbs are needed “for a very long time”.
The study, intended to track the spread of Covid-19 in the general population, will continue for a year, with the aim that it will help improve understanding around the current rate of infection and how many people are likely to have developed antibodies to the virus.
Chris Whitty, chief medical officer of England, said the UK will have to live with some disruptive social measures for at least the rest of the year, adding that it is “wholly unrealistic” to expect life would suddenly return to normal soon.
As the University of Oxford human trial for a vaccine was set to begin on Thursday, Whitty said the ideal way out of the pandemic would be via a highly effective vaccine or drugs, but he warned that the chance of having those within the next calendar year was “incredibly small”.
He said: “This disease is not going to be eradicated, it is not going to disappear…So we have to accept that we are working with a disease that we are going to be with globally… for the foreseeable future”.
On the study, officials said participants will provide samples taken from self-administered nose and throat swabs and answer a few short questions during a home visit by a trained health worker. The swab tests will show whether or not participants currently have the virus.
They will be asked to take further tests every week for the first 5 weeks, then every month for 12 months. In total, 25,000 people will take part in the pilot phase of the survey, with plans to extend it to up to around 300,000 over the next 12 months.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “This survey will help to track the current extent of transmission and infection in the UK, while also answering crucial questions about immunity as we continue to build up our understanding of this new virus”.
“Together, these results will help us better understand the spread of the virus to date, predict the future trajectory and inform future action we take, including crucially the development of ground-breaking new tests and treatments”.