Rapid COVID-19 screening kits could be available by year-end

Liang Kung-yee 梁賡義/ CNA

TAIPEI (CNA) — Rapid screening kits being developed by Taiwan’s National Health Research Institute (NHRI) for the coronavirus disease COVID-19 could be available for use by medical personnel by the end of the year, the institute’s president said Wednesday.

The NHRI is currently testing the virus identification capacity of the antibodies that were selected for the development of COVID-19 rapid screening kits, Liang Kung-yee (梁賡義) said, noting that the testing is expected to be completed by March 31.

The next steps will be to conduct technology transfers to companies and undertake clinical trials with human tissue samples, Liang said.

It is assessed that the rapid screening kit developed by the NHRI could be available for use before the end of the year, he added.

Liang emphasized that the rapid screening kit, like those used for influenza, will not have a 100 percent accuracy rate. Nevertheless, it is a “vital step” from the viewpoint of public health, he said.

The state-run health research institute is using the antibodies of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which had a major outbreak in Taiwan in 2003, as the research basis for its development of screening kits for COVID-19, which is being spread rapidly worldwide since it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Aside from the NHRI, Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top academic research institute, is also working on the development of COVID-19 rapid screening kits.

There have been nearly 120,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in over 107 countries and areas, including Taiwan, with 4,291 deaths as of Wednesday, according to data from Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center.

The World Health Organization has declared the COVID-19 outbreak “a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”