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Pharma companies Roche and Abbott Laboratories will supply millions of coronavirus antibody tests to the UK government, allowing the tests to be made available through the NHS.

The tests will begin to be distributed in a phased strategy starting from next week. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the tests will be crucial to building an understanding of the spread of coronavirus in the UK.

Hancock said: “This is an important milestone and it represents further progress in our national testing program. Knowing that you have these antibodies will help us to understand more in the future: if you are at lower risk of catching coronavirus, of dying from coronavirus and transmitting coronavirus.”

Mike Clayton, Abbott Laboratories managing director of Northern Europe diagnostics, said: “Abbott is proud to support the NHS’ COVID-19 antibody testing strategy announced today, with agreement to supply antibody tests to NHS laboratories across the UK.” Clayton added that “Antibody testing is an important next step as we work to get back to our normal lives”.

The deal follows Public Health England giving the green light to Roche’s antibody test last week, before approving Abbott’s this week after conducting independent evaluations of the tests’ performance.

Matt Hancock also announced that trials of a coronavirus swab test to determine if a person is infected, with results returned in 20 minutes, would begin next week in Hampshire.

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