Up to 80 per cent of people who test positive for coronavirus don’t show any symptoms, a new study of the pandemic in England suggests.
In the vast majority of cases, those who tested positive had not been displaying any symptoms, Matt Hancock revealed on Thursday.
The Health Secretary told the daily Downing Street press briefing: “Yes, there are some people who don’t have symptoms but do have the virus.
“And in fact, in the ONS study we find that around 70-80 per cent of people who test positive don’t have symptoms. That is quite a significant finding.”
Mr Hancock acknowledged that asymptomatic transmission is “one of the things that makes controlling this disease really hard.”
But, he said, the Government’s NHS test and trace scheme offered part of the solution, since isolating those who test positive for Covid-19 can “break the chain of transmission”, particularly when they would not have otherwise known they were carrying the disease.
Dido Harding, who is heading up the NHS test-and-trace programme, said a rollout of antibody testing for the public would “come in time”, with health care staff currently being tested.
Antibodies being present in a blood sample are a sign that someone has contracted the virus in the past.
But Baroness Harding said the issue was that not enough was known about what level of protection testing positive for coronavirus antibodies provided.
Earlier in the UK outbreak, there had initially been talk of immunity certificates being issued by the Government to allow those who had previously contracted the virus to be exempt from some lockdown measures.
Lady Harding told the No 10 press conference: “One of the challenges, and I know we all want it to be true that if we have antibodies it will then mean we are free to do things others are not, but at the moment… if we have an antibody test what it tells you is you have antibodies.
“Over time we would expect that we would build up the evidence to demonstrate what proportion or level of antibodies you need to actually have immunity and for how long you would have immunity.
“But at the moment, the science isn’t there.
“So I totally understand everyone’s desire to know if that cough or temperature they had in February or March was in fact coronavirus but at the moment it won’t tell you anything other than if you did or didn’t have it.”
She added: “It will come in time, and the testing we are doing, the antibody testing in health and care at the moment, is enabling us to build that scientific evidence base to the point at which then we will start to see the real benefit for all of us.”
The latest figures from the ONS study suggest that one in every 1,000 people currently have coronavirus, with 53,000 people thought to be carrying it in England at present.