Could 50-second Covid tests save schools and travel?

A 50-second test for Covid-19 could become key to the government’s plan for us to live with the virus and avoid future lockdowns.

The Virion Device enables someone to test whether or not they have coronavirus in less than one minute, according to the Israeli start-up that developed it. This is significantly quicker than the 15-30-minute period required by lateral flow tests and the 24 hours it generally takes to return a PCR result.

This new form of test detects Covid by using a saliva sample taken from under the tongue, as opposed to the more invasive nose and throat samples that are required for PCRs and lateral flows. 

Rather than detecting specific viral proteins, which is how a PCR works, or looking for Covid-19’s genetic material, as a lateral flow does, the Virion Device detects biomarkers – specific chemical compositions that reveal coronavirus infection. 

The test should be able to detect future variants of the virus, as long as its biomarkers do not change, according to the i news site. This “has been the case so far”, the site says, with existing variants.

Seeking approval

The 50-second test was trialled in New Delhi, India, in July 2020, revealing an accuracy of 97.84%, according to the start-up’s figures. It has since been trialled in different countries and on different variants, including Delta and Omicron

Kidod Science and Technology is seeking approval for its Virion Device in the UK via the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said i news. If it is approved, it could be made available for private use and within “weeks”. 

Moshe Golan, the president of Kidod Science and Technology, said that he hopes that the tests – which don’t require the use of a laboratory or anyone with specialist training – can eventually be used in airports, on cruises, factories, schools and universities. 

“You can take [the device] from one place to another, so it can be in a small place, for example a small factory with one hundred workers,” Golan told the i. “Once they’re tested you can move it to another place.”

50 tests per hour

As each handheld Virion Device, which is about the size of a desktop computer, can conduct 50 tests per hour and 1,200 per day, they could revolutionise schools and places of work that have been disproportionately affected by the virus. 

Rising numbers of absent workers was a hot topic over Christmas, with the Royal Mail saying that its staff shortages were “almost double 2018 levels” as a result of Covid, said the Financial Times

On 20 July 2021, the BBC reported that 1.7 million pupils in England (23.3% of the total) had been out of school the previous week. A million of those children had been absent for Covid-related reasons, but only 47,000 actually had Covid. 

Having access to a Virion Device, which could provide more than a thousand easy-to-administer Covid tests per day, could be a game-changer for the places that have been hardest hit by staff shortages as a result of isolation and quarantine rules.

However, it is not yet clear how much the devices will cost and whether or not they are likely to be approved by the MHRA. 


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