This week, London Heathrow Airport has announced that it will begin a 4-week testing project of around 2,000 staff who are currently symptom-free in partnership with the UK Government and the National Health Service ‘Test and Trace’ platform in order to help identify those who may unknowingly be carrying the virus and especially its new strains. The airport has said that the project is designed to support measures already in place to keep the airport COVID-secure, help stop the spread of the new more contagious variants of the virus and provide valuable insight into how frequent rapid testing can be more widely deployed to keep vital services running.
This initiative and others like it could spell a more significant opening of other large industries such as infrastructure engineering, railways, entertainment, hospitality, manufacturing, and retail, among many more. By testing staff weekly in industry with results within 20 minutes, consumers and employees can feel safer returning to these environments without the fear of potentially transmitting the virus and employers can have greater certainty on working hours, capacity and avoid further disruption.
The UK has led the way internationally with its “test to suppress” Moonshots programme, announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, including the beginning of mass testing in education with teachers and staff in secondary schools beginning self-testing during February with primary schools following shortly after. In guidance from Public Health England, school staff have been asked to use lateral flow tests twice a week to ensure they are COVID free, with other nations expected to follow as they try to identify new variants and strains of the virus so that they are able to reduce the need for future likelihood and closures in education.
The key benefit of these lateral flow antigen tests is their ability to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus and prevent transmission at the earliest point. This has become even more vital due to the ability for the virus to mutate to become more infectious as we have seen in the UK (Kent), South Africa and Brazil.
The World Nano Foundation and pandemic experts say regular use of inexpensive mass lateral flow rapid antigen test kits is the way to beat COVID-19, its variants, and future viruses. The adoption of rapid mass testing across populations can help pinpoint cases of the virus, reducing the likelihood of transmission and allowing those in education to feel more secure when returning to busy schools and universities, as well as allowing education professionals to deliver the highest standard of teaching once again.
As vaccination quickens across the board, the next prize is to get the world’s economies moving, with mass frequent testing as the key, using the mantra ‘test to suppress’, and as an early warning system to protect against new strains and future outbreaks.
In what many believe was a game changer in preventing lockdowns, in communities and workplaces lateral flow rapid test kits (LFTs) have been mobilised now for door-to-door delivery – the UK government has secured more than 400 million of these kits – for its “Test to Suppress” strategy as well as to address fears that the South African variant had broken out in areas of the country.
Many other countries, including the US, Canada, Japan, France, Hungary as well as industries including entertainment, aviation, travel and energy to name but a few are now adopting this regular rapid testing strategy.
Innova Medical – the world’s largest manufacturer of rapid lateral flow antigen tests is ramping up to 50 million a day by the spring – has also confirmed that its COVID-19 product is effective in detecting variant strains such as the British (Kent), South African, and Brazilian variants, which appear more contagious than the earlier strains.
“As these dangerous strains show signs of increased transmissibility across communities, the global effort to eliminate COVID-19 requires frequent, comprehensive and equitable testing that can detect these emerging strains,” said Daniel Elliott, President and CEO of Innova Medical Group.
He said the virus continues to morph its genetic ribonucleic acid (RNA) to generate new and potentially more contagious variants, but Innova’s antigen test is effective because it looks for multiple proteins in the virus.
Workplace and community rapid mass testing is already starting to take place to keep economies moving and the entertainment and sports industries are said to be looking at a ‘day pass’ testing approach using LFT kits, in the same way that temperature checks were made on people using restaurants and pubs between lockdowns.
A trial is already under way in France using a music theatre to give day pass security so that people can start attending mass events again.
World Health Organisation Special Envoy on COVID-19, David Nabarro, had already suggested this approach: “We’ve seen it (rapid mass testing) used in many different locations, for example in trying to keep aircraft free of people who’ve got COVID or looking after major events.”
A UK Government initiative offering LFTs in workplaces – healthcare, education, and local authorities, with private companies such as Royal Mail, the DVLA and Tate & Lyle Sugars, Jaguar, Bentley, John Lewis, London Heathrow Airport, Octopus Energy and Tata Steel also adopting frequent rapid testing.
Globally renowned British doctors’ journal, The Lancet, backed this approach after publishing an exhaustive study of quarantine and testing measures, and leading UK scientists and clinical experts have added their weight.
Oxford University researchers found the UK Government’s most sensitive LFTs detected 83-90% of all infectious cases of COVID-19 and, with the UK investing more than £1.5bn in these test kits so far.
Oxford’s Regius Professor of Medicine, Sir John Bell underlined the benefit of these tests removing infectious people from high-risk environments: “They’ve found 25,000 cases just in healthcare, which may have prevented tens of thousands of cases of the disease.”
Tim Peto, Professor of Medicine, Infectious Disease, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, Oxford University addressed the contrasts between PCR (polymerase chain reaction) swab testing and lateral flow kits:
“PCR is very good at telling you’ve had the virus or got the virus, but it doesn’t tell you whether you are infectious or not and the other problem about the swab test is that it takes a day or two…to get the answer back. The LFT has the enormous advantage of giving you an answer in about 30 minutes.”
He said this allows immediate self-isolation and individuals can also quickly advise their contacts so, “within a few hours, a local outbreak can be detected. This can’t be done with the swab (PCR) tests” adding that LFTs “detect people with high viral loads…the very people who are infectious.”
The World Nano Foundation (WNF) promotes healthcare technology and predicts that mass testing is central to future pandemic protection. The not-for-profit organisation’s Co-founder Paul Sheedy said: “Our research shows how healthcare diagnostics technology will shift dramatically to a more decentralised community early intervention model, against potential epidemics and pandemics.
“Our own COVIDlytics modelling shows that an intensive front line ‘Test to Suppress’ campaign using rapid test kits available to the individual will allow early detection and immediate isolation, reducing the need for lockdowns.
“And our simulation maps how consecutive daily tests for three days can rapidly identify and isolate infectious people. Weekly testing can then sustain a low infection rate even in a large population.
“A key point previously missed by some experts is that high quality rapid lateral flow tests are not for people who already think they have COVID-19; it’s about everyone else testing frequently to check they are not infectious.
“Used alongside vaccines and other preventative methods, these simple tests have been developed from colloidal gold nanoparticle research and are a vital component in the battle to defeat the virus and it’s future variants.
“Rapid community testing is simpler, faster, cheaper, more effective and mobilises everyone to help themselves, their relatives, friends, and colleagues, to keep everyone safe.
“As West Africa reeled under the impact of Ebola (2014-16) the world watched with bated breath to see if the ‘beast’ would go global, but frequent mass rapid testing was deployed at community level multiple times over a few weeks stopping that terrible disease in its tracks.
“With the work that we do, we know that there are even more exciting technologies on the way that will be central to the world’s fight for pandemic protection and future healthcare.
“We have already seen the danger from not being on our guard against renewed viral threats. Spanish Flu struck in 1918, killing up to 50 million people in four waves, the last two being most deadly because public health warnings were not adhered to.”
This means that there will be a revolution in healthcare in the coming years. Healthcare investment is forecast to grow at a rate of nearly 50% a year towards a market set to be worth $1.333 trillion by 2027. The acceleration highlights wide recognition that the world cannot afford the human and economic cost of another pandemic.
One international investment platform is a Pandemic Protection alternative investment fund operated by Vector Innovation Fund in Luxembourg focused on limiting the effect of long form Covid-19, insulating the world against the impact of future pandemics, whilst minimising any impact on the global economy and healthcare provision and preparedness.
The Vector Innovation Fund is a Reserved Alternative Investment Fund (RAIF) specialising in support for technology companies able to transform global markets, notably in global healthcare, sustainability and longevity. These transformational technologies come from the nanotechnology, biotech, AI and machine learning, medical devices, therapies and digital health sectors.