Thousands of tests will be sold in chemists such as Boots or delivered by Amazon to people with symptoms who are self-isolating as soon as next week.
Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the national infection service at PHE, told MPs on the science and technology committee that once the tests are cleared, they will be “distributed to the community”.
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Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said the government bought millions of the tests on Tuesday and is ordering millions more.
The antibody test involves pricking a finger and analysing a drop of blood in a device that looks like a pregnancy test. It will only tell the person if they have had Covid-19, not if they currently have it.
The test will detect the presence of the antibodies IGM, which emerges in the early stages of infection, and IGG, which increases during the body’s response to the virus.
Ms Peacock said the tests would “absolutely” be available within days, rather than weeks or months, when asked by MPs.
She said: “Several million tests have ben purchased for use. These are brand new products. We have to be clear they work as they are claiming to do.
“Once they have been tested this week and the bulk of tests arrive, they will be distributed into the community.”
Currently, only patients admitted to hospital are being routinely tested for Covid-19. Between 5,000 to 6,000 people are being tested a day, but the government plans to increase this to 25,000 tests a day within four weeks.
The new antibody tests could help the UK achieve what the World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged governments to do, which is to “test, test, test”.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said: “We cannot stop this pandemic if we do not know who is infected.”
The antibody tests are also being ordered across Europe and Southeast Asia, said Ms Peacock.
“We are not alone in doing this,” she added.