AN “on-the-spot” coronavirus test that gives results in just 20 minutes is to begin trials tomorrow, Matt Hancock, the UK Government’s Health Secretary, has announced.

The new antigen swab test, which will show if someone currently has the virus, does not need to be sent to a laboratory. If the trials prove successful, the test will be rolled out next month in the hope it could become the standard means of showing whether or not someone has the virus.

A&E departments, GP testing hubs and care homes in Hampshire will all trial the new test, which will be used on up to 4,000 people.

The development follows criticisms that people have been waiting days or weeks to get their test results.

Speaking at the Downing Street daily press conference, Matt Hancock, the UK Government’s Health Secretary, said the new swab test was “interesting to us because it is so fast; you get the result on the spot".

He added: "We want to find out if it will be effective on a larger scale. If it works, we'll roll it out as soon as we can."

The announcement came as the Government also revealed it had agreed a deal with pharmaceutical firms Roche and Abbott for more than 10 million antibody blood tests, which show if a person has had Covid-19.

These tests will first be rolled out to health and social care staff as well as patients and care home residents.

While it remains unclear what level of immunity people develop once they have had the virus, some experts hope a degree of immunity lasts for at least a year or two. However, having antibodies does not automatically mean a person will not pass the virus onto somebody else.

Mr Hancock revealed data that showed around one in six people in London and one in 20 elsewhere in England had already had the coronavirus.

Information gathered from an antibody surveillance study led by the Office for National Statistics suggested 17 per cent of people in London, around 1.5 million, and around 5% in England, some 2.8m people, had tested positive for antibodies to coronavirus.

At the No 10 briefing, Mr Hancock said certificates were being looked at for people who tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.

"It's not just about the clinical advances that these tests can bring. It's that knowing that you have these antibodies will help us to understand more in the future if you are at lower risk of catching coronavirus, of dying from coronavirus and of transmitting coronavirus.

"We're developing this critical science to know the impact of a positive antibody test and to develop the systems of certification to ensure people who have positive antibodies can be given assurances of what they can safely do," explained the Secretary of State.

He said the UK Government's deal with Roche and Abbott would cover all of the devolved nations with each one deciding "how to use its test allocation and how testing will be prioritised and managed locally".

Meanwhile, Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, told the briefing that the total number of deaths from all causes was now down to the rate in an average winter.

He said "All cause mortality has come down at the same time as the Covid deaths have come down and it is now at roughly the rate it is at in an average winter.

"So, we are essentially having a winter in health terms, in terms of mortality, but in late spring and early summer."

Prof Whitty also said care home deaths had peaked and were now on the way down.

On the UK Government’s test, track and trace programme, Mr Hancock sought to play down the importance of the delayed app in the contact tracing process.

He had originally said the app would be rolled out by mid-May but it has now been delayed by several weeks.

The Government is aiming for 25,000 human contact tracers to be in place for June 1; the earliest date for opening schools and non-essential shops in England.

Mr Hancock told the briefing: "The technology is an important part, but it is not the only part."

He said trials of the app in the Isle of Wight had shown the human contact tracing elements were also important so people could understand the consequences of what was required if they had been near someone with coronavirus.

"The app is, as you know, working in the Isle of Wight, we want to make sure that this whole system lands well and supports the ability, safely, to make changes to social distancing rules," explained the Secretary of State.

Professor John Newton, of Public Health England, said there could be advantages in doing the contact tracing process without the app initially.

Today, important information is expected to be given on the R-rates of infection for different parts of the UK, which are seen as particularly important in the Government’s bid to open up schools south of the Border from next month.