It will help identify those most at risk of spreading the virus - because they don't know they have it.
Oxford University is working on the technology with the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and Durham University - and it produces results in minutes!
The new pilot scheme will assess the use of Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) to identify asymptomatic individuals with coronavirus.
It is hoped it will help identify those most at risk of spreading COVID-19 (those who are infectious, but not aware of this) and enable them to alter their behaviour accordingly, thereby breaking the chains of transmission and reducing the infection rate.
The test involves a swab of the nose and throat to collect a sample, which is then inserted into a tube of liquid for a short time.
Initially, staff and students at Oxford University itself will be offered LFTs as part of the study and will be trained in how to take the test, process the test and record the results using NHS Test and Trace.
At the moment, the study has been opened up to Merton College and St Hilda’s College. Participation is completely voluntary.
LFTs have already been validated and undergone clinical testing - if they are able to detect enough people with the virus before they get symptoms, they could help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Feasibility and Acceptability of community COVID-19 rapid Testing Strategies (FACTS) study will assess how to organise using LFTs on a regular basis.
It will track how many people take up the offer of testing, how many carry on doing the tests regularly, and how many cases of COVID-19 are detected.
Richard Hobbs, Nuffield Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford and lead on the study said: ‘The results of this study will be important because some of the spread of COVID-19 happens before people get symptoms and self-isolate. Further, some people with the infection never get symptoms, especially young people. This is one reason that universities across the world have suffered outbreaks of COVID-19 as students go back to campus.
‘The primary purpose of the study is not whether the University adopts this test, but to help uncover how to organise such screening in the national and international fight against COVID-19.’
Professor Gavin Screaton, Head of Medical Sciences Division at the University of Oxford said: ‘Through Oxford’s Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service (EAS) the University has been operating a comprehensive testing service, seven days a week, for all staff and students out of two testing pods, one at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ) and the other at the Old Road Campus (ORC) in Headington since August.
‘We are keen to do everything we can to support the local, national and international effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This new research pilot of LFTs aims to gather important information to further the national testing efforts. Our priority is to engage with the most promising research and innovations in testing, and to support delivery of those we think will have the most impact for the wider community.’