According to a clinical evaluation, the 30-minute coronavirus rapid tests could miss up to 30% of infections.
Lateral flow tests generate a result from a swab without the need for laboratory equipment and are currently being tested in Liverpool.
They are lined up as a way to significantly expand testing on people without symptoms, potentially including thousands of people University students before returning home for Christmas.
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An independent review for the government found them “highly reliable, sensitive and accurate,” according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
He said the four best performing lateral flow tests detected coronavirus in “more than 70%” of cases, with the one used in Liverpool – the Innova test – at 76.8%.
This means that up to 30% of infected people could potentially be lost.
However, the DHSC pointed out that the tests “catch everyone with high viral loads”, meaning they find those who are most likely to spread the disease.
The Innova test was found to detect 95% of people with a high viral load, with “minimal difference” in their ability to pick up the virus in people with symptoms and those without.
Its false positive rate was 0.32%.
Nine lateral tests were fully evaluated by Public Health England’s renowned Porton Down laboratory and the University of Oxford.
The DHSC said the results showed that the tests should be used on a larger scale to test people without symptoms, adding capabilities to the more accurate PCR tests already offered to people with symptoms.
Lateral flow tests offer fast results, but should still be performed by trained personnel at special test sites. However, experts are looking into how they could be self-administered.
The chief medical consultant of NHS Test and Trace said he is confident that lateral flow tests “will make a real difference”.
“These tests are proving to be accurate and reliable,” said Susan Hopkins.
“And, importantly, they are able to detect COVID-19 in people without symptoms who may unknowingly pass the virus to others …
“We are confident that these new tests, which have been rigorously evaluated, will make a real difference in how we protect people from this disease and help break the chains of transmission.”