Remarks made by Professor Sharon Peacock, the director of the national infection service at Public Health England, have been widely reported in the press. Prof Peacock told MPs that a home testing kit to check if you have had the new coronavirus could be available from retailers like Amazon and Boots in a matter of days. However, this timeline has been disputed by medical experts and politicians who insist more time is needed to ensure the tests work.
At an appearance before the science and technology committee on 25 March, Prof Peacock described an antibody test that is in development that will allow people to check if they have already had Covid-19. She said the tests, which could be done at home, would be evaluated that week to ensure they work properly. Once this is done, they will be “distributed into the community” and available to buy from Amazon or Boots.
She told MPs she anticipated the evaluation of these tests should be completed “by the end of this week”, and that in the “near future” people will be able to purchase the tests. Asked if she’s talking about a “small number of days rather than weeks or months” for the tests to be available, Prof Peacock responded: “Yes, absolutely.”
However, at the government’s daily Covid-19 news conference later the same day, Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty disputed this account and insisted the focus was currently on ensuring the tests work properly.
“The key thing for us to do is now to evaluate are these tests accurate enough to be used by the general public. And if the answer is they’re all incredibly accurate then we will work out the most quick and effective way to release these,” he said.
“I do not think, and I want to be clear, that this is something we’ll suddenly be ordering on the internet next week.”
In an interview on BBC Breakfast on 26 March, health minister Edward Argar said “good progress” was being made with the evaluation of the tests, but he didn’t want to be “premature in setting a specific date when it will be ready”.
“We’re hopeful we’ll be able to do it very quickly but I don’t want to set an artificial timeline.”
Boots have also responded to the claims on Twitter, saying: “We are keen to work with the government to explore opportunities to support Covid-19 testing and to support the NHS in any way we can. However we do not have any type of Covid-19 tests in our stores. Customers should not make a trip to a Boots store or pharmacy for this purpose.”