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Public might ‘deliberately seek out coronavirus infection’ to get back to work if antibody tests are rolled out, ministers told

Ministers are pinning their hopes on antibody testing to help ease the UK-wide lockdown.

2 min read

People might start “deliberately seeking out infection” to be given the chance to get back to work if coronavirus antibody tests are used to ease the lockdown, ministers have been warned.

Advice drawn up by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) says employees might try to “game the system” if a positive diagnosis for antibodies is used to determine whether somebody can re-enter the workplace.

The warning comes amid a fresh batch of documents from Sage, which has been advising ministers on the latest evidence on the outbreak.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Monday night said he was in talks about a “very large scale rollout” of antibody testing, amid hopes that such tests will reveal who has antibodies to the virus and therefore may be less likely to catch or pass it on.

A Sage document on “possible negative behavioural responses to Covid-19 antibody tests” - dated April 13 - says the testing programme could “hcontribute to wider strategies to facilitate return to work and other activities in ways that do not increase infection”.

But it spells out a string of potential downsides to the plan, including a mistaken belief that those who have tested positive for antibodies “have no chance of becoming infected with Covid-19 in the future” - making them less likely to spot symptoms.

The document also warns of “reduced adherance” to hand-washing and other measures to cut transmissions among people who have tested ‘anti-body positive’ - and warns that those given the green-light could “actively volunteer to take on activities at work with high exposure to COVID-19".

“If a test result is a requirement for a resumption of work, a range of strategies to ‘game’ the system may arise" - Sage document

“This might include customer-facing roles or tasks within health or social care that involve greater contact with COVID-19 patients,” Sage warns.

“This would be particularly problematic if the test result was incorrect.”

And it says: “If a test result is a requirement for a resumption of work, a range of strategies to ‘game’ the system may arise. 

“These include people deliberately seeking out infection or attempting to purchase a fake test result, commercial organisations selling unapproved tests, or approved tests becoming available through private organisations at prices that make them unavailable to most.”

The document also warns that employers may start to “discriminate on the basis of antibody status” by barring those who test negative from returning to work - or only hiring new workers with a positive test result.

“This risk applies across all occupational sectors,” it says.

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