150,000 kits to test all islanders’ immunity to covid-19 are on their way in batches this month - but regular tests due to arrive this week have hit significant delays.
Dr Ivan Muscat today confirmed the blood tests to find out if someone has already had the virus and is therefore immune are now on order and will be arriving in Jersey in batches of 50,000.
The announcement came during a web press conference with the medical lead on Jersey’s response to the current health crisis where Dr Muscat updated the public about where the island is on its epidemic ‘curve’ and what is being done to step up testing amid growing pressure on government.
Dr Muscat explained the purpose of what he called “serology testing” which detects whether someone has already fought off the infection and therefore has immunity.
Video: Watch the press conference in full.
“We are also pursuing serology testing which basically looks at blood to determine whether someone is immune to the virus or not.”
Confirming that Jersey’s Health Department has already ordered 5,000 self-contained kits which include all the chemicals needed to get results within a few hours, Dr Muscat said that “something like 150,000” of the immunity tests will also start arriving by mid-April in 50,000 batches.
It’s intended that health workers will be the first to receive the immunity tests and then it will be extended to “a greater proportion of people” and then “island-wide”. Whenever a fresh batch of kits arrives, Dr Muscat said this cycle will continue.
Although the doctor said that the department “haven’t yet designed” how this testing will take place in the wider community, he said that they were looking at sending out mobile testing units.
“Obviously, we would be very interested in working out who is infected and who isn’t in order to determine what someone’s diagnosis is and where they’re looked after if they’re admitted to hospital, for example.”
Officials have now clarified more detail on this, stating: "The new antibody testing programme announced today will be Island-wide and will be available first to essential front-line workers towards the end of April, and then to everyone across the island. This will help health staff to understand who has Coronavirus, and who has had it, recovered and gained immunity.
"The test will be performed by a simple pin prick, undertaken by trained staff. Because of Jersey’s size, the government is able to roll out the testing programme to all households."
Pictured: The process for extending immunity tests (Government of Jersey).
The senior health official also said that the tests will identify who has been in close contact with individuals who have had the virus so that any further spread can be reduced.
He added that the regular test for covid-19 to see if someone has it presently will be important in identifying infected health workers to ensure they don’t pass it to their colleagues and patients. On top of this, the immunity test will allow government to determine “who of our health workers are immune, who amongst the essential workers is immune and who amongst our vulnerable groups is immune.”
The tests will also give a clearer picture of immunity across the population as a whole. “That will start informing us about what the risks would be or not be if we started to lift the ‘stay at home’ mitigation that we currently have in place.”
Elsewhere in the conference, Dr Muscat said that the 5,000 testing kits which the Chief Minister announced where on their way within 48-hours on Monday (30 March) are now expected to arrive mid-April.
When asked by Express about this delay, Dr Muscat said: “The original order had been a direct order with Cepheid who make the kits that are compatible with the platform that we have been using in the laboratory for some time... We had originally been told that those kits would be arriving at the end of March [to] very early April, that arrival time has shifted, and my understanding is that it has shifted by about fifteen days. But until they actually arrive, I can’t give you an exact date of arrival.”
The government have now confirmed that the tests are arriving from California via the Netherlands and the UK and it's been arranged for the 5,000 kits to arrive in batches to speed up delivery times.
Pictured: Dr Ivan Muscat, Medical Officer for Health.
In response to another question from Express about any progress in terms of setting up on-island testing, Dr Muscat explained that Jersey is looking into three types of testing to cut down on the waiting time for results.
The first is the self-contained kits from Cepheid which return results in around an hour.
“We have the platform for that. The kit that is delivered for that comes in a small, self-contained box with all the appropriate reagents and ‘bits and pieces’, so to speak, within that box. So, it is simply a case of adding the patients’ sample to that box and running the test.”
The second is a similar test procured from a different supplier.
“We’re also looking at a third, more complex PCR system which requires a large-ish platform, a machine that we don’t have, rather similar to the machines that they have in reference laboratories. That requires reagents and kits that go with it to run the test. We are particularly interested in one company that can supply us all the items to run those tests at the same time. But we’re also looking at whether we can hasten the process by purchasing reagents from different people and machines from different people.”
Dr Muscat emphasised that the government is “exploring all three of them at the same time and trying to catalyse arrival with as much effort as we can.”
Issuing statements after the conference, Chief Minister Le Fondré said: "The island-wide testing programme is very welcome news, which I hope will reassure islanders that the government is doing everything we can to map the spread of the virus in more detail, so we can implement the right measures to contain it. These timely interventions will help us to save lives.
“Officers have been working hard with the supplier to make sure that Jersey remains a priority in the global supply chain. While we are disappointed that the COVID-19 test kits will not be here in the timeframe initially announced, we will provide an update as soon as they arrive.”
Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf added: "I want to thank our health staff who have worked so tirelessly to devise this ambitious programme under rapid conditions. Their proactive work in securing a testing system that can be rolled out across the whole Island will help us to stay on the front foot in our fight to contain and delay the spread of Coronavirus and shield our most vulnerable islanders against it.”
Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.
Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.