I finally took the plunge last week and ordered a Covid-19 antibodies testing kit, six months after contracting nearly all the symptoms of coronavirus.
Medical opinions on the worth and veracity of these tests have varied wildly since March, as have the UK government’s promises on making reliable ones available to everyone. In the end, I plumped for a £39 test provided by the not-for-profit Testing For All as a way of confirming I had actually had the virus and for some idea of whether I might still be resistant to it coming back again.
I was impressed by the well-thought-out kit when it arrived and with the clear instructions, online video demonstration and website. But things went wrong when I tried to provide the blood sample required. Using a push-button lancet I pricked a finger, but was only able to draw a few drops of blood and then failed to direct all of them into the included vial. Using two spare lancets on two different fingers, I still only managed to collect enough blood to barely cover the bottom of the vial, when it was supposed to be half-full.
I contemplated making a deeper cut to a finger with a sharp kitchen knife, but quickly realised I was a coward and a sharp knife did not exist in our kitchen anyway. Instead, I posted the vial with my feeble sample off to the lab yesterday, fully expecting to have it rejected as unusable.
The lesson I’ve drawn from not drawing enough blood is that there is no substitute for a good phlebotomist and these supposedly quick and easy tests have their drawbacks.
Which is a long-winded route to urging you to read our investigation today into the company claiming it has developed a coronavirus test that takes only 20 seconds to process.
Developed by the UK’s iAbra and tried out at Heathrow airport, the test involves a simple mouth swab, which is dropped into a black box. Inside the box is a digital camera attached to a microscope that can examine the sample and see if it contains any Covid-19 virus. It displays the answer within seconds.
Sounds wonderful, but iAbra is just a four-person company based north of London, with none of its staff experts in viruses or microscopy. Its equipment has yet to be validated and there does not seem to have been any oversight of the underlying data for the company’s claims for the test’s 99.8 per cent sensitivity and 96.7 per cent specificity.
“Fundamentally, we’re trying to do a good thing for humanity as quickly as possible,” iAbra’s CEO told us, which could be the reason why many such coronavirus tests are not proving as straightforward as they seem.
The Internet of (Five) Things
1. TikTok plan becomes clearer
ByteDance will place TikTok’s global business in a new US-headquartered company with Oracle investing as a minority shareholder, according to people briefed on the plan presented to US officials. The deal with Oracle as its cloud partner is unlikely to be blocked by Beijing, analysts in China say, since it does not involve the sale of any source code or Chinese data to the US.
2. Snowflake completes largest ever US software IPO
Cloud company Snowflake raised about $3.4bn for a market capitalisation of more than $33bn. The $120 share price exceeded its targeted range of $100 to $110, which itself was increased by more than a quarter earlier this week. But when trading began today, the stock jumped more than 160 per cent to touch $315. The offering is the biggest of the year and the largest in the US since Uber’s $8.1bn flotation in May last year.
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3. Apple’s family value
Apple’s updated Watch and iPad launch event yesterday also included a big new push on services. Analysts say Apple One — a new subscription plan giving monthly access to a variety of services including iCloud storage, arcade games, music, news, fitness, television and movie streaming — is “a masterstroke” as Apple moves to “drive value from users and the untapped opportunity, families”.
4. Gambling top-ups are fake online orders
Money launderers have used some of China’s leading online shopping sites to transfer billions of dollars to offshore gambling sites, police raids have revealed. People wishing to evade China’s strict capital controls, for example to gamble on offshore websites, have been placing fake orders on the shopping sites, including on Pinduoduo. A corresponding sum is then credited to their gaming account.
5. US pressures China on hacking
The US Department of Justice has announced charges against five alleged hackers based in China, in what prosecutors called a wide-ranging conspiracy that targeted more than 100 companies globally. The charges were the latest in an ongoing effort by US authorities to put pressure on the Chinese government to halt its alleged theft of intellectual property and crack down on cyber criminals operating in China.
Tech tools — iOS 14
There was no new iPhone unveiling at Tuesday’s Apple event, but users can still benefit from its latest operating system, with the surprise announcement that iOS 14 is available from today, along with updates for the iPad and Watch’s software. Android feels like it has had these forever, but the big visual difference on the home screen is the introduction of widgets. More innovative are App Clips — mini-apps associated with a product or business that can be quickly summoned when you’re out and about, such as needing to pay for parking or ordering a meal at a restaurant.