Britain has agreed a deal to acquire antibody tests, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday, saying the tests would be free and health and care workers would be prioritised.
Mass antibody testing is being considered by many countries as a way to speed the reopening of economies devastated by lockdowns and to introduce more tailored social distancing measures.
Britain has been in talks with Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG to buy an accurate COVID-19 antibody test, following the lead of the European Union and United States which have already given preliminary approval to the tests.
Britain will buy 10 million coronavirus antibody tests from Roche and Abbott and will roll them out to health workers from next week, health minister Matt Hancock said on Thursday.
"Have we now agreed a deal on the antibody testing? The answer to that is yes," the spokesman told reporters, adding that health minister Matt Hancock would offer more details later on Thursday.
Confirming the same, Hancock later said, "We have signed contracts to supply in the coming months over 10 million tests from Roche and Abbott. From next week, we will begin rolling these out in a phased way; at first, to health and care staff, patients and residents."
The antibody tests - also known as a serology test - show who has been infected, although it is not yet clear whether the presence of antibodies to the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, confers permanent immunity.
Earlier this month, the spokesman said there was the possibility of issuing some kind of certificate based on immunity but that scientists still needed to know more about that subject area.