Insurance companies say the jury is out on how much employers may be liable to COVID-19 compensation claims in the workplace.
But they accept that testing may be part of a new era as the UK government leads the way by encouraging major employers such as Royal Mail and Tate & Lyle Sugars to deploy inexpensive mass lateral flow rapid antigen test kits.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) reported that many in its industry were already urging customers to heed the evolving crisis and official guidance. This advice from German-based financial services multinational Allianz is typical:
“We will follow any government guidance on isolation and/or testing regimes for (our) engineer surveyors who have suspected COVID-19 or had close contact with persons with/suspected to have COVID-19. This protects our clients, their workforce and the general public.”
Rapid mass testing must also be under consideration as insurers review employers’ liability, now a legal grey area during the pandemic according to the ABI:
“Employers’ liability insurance in the workplace, which with a few exceptions, is compulsory by law, covers an employer’s legal liability for injury, disease and death to employees in the workplace or in connection with their work duties, whilst public liability covers legal liability towards the public.
“Causation (the harm was caused at the workplace) and negligence (breach of duty of care by the business) generally need to be demonstrated for a successfully claim against a company and we are not aware as yet how the courts may interpret these in relation to Covid-19.”
Mass testing will also have a role in medical insurance according to Laura J Hay, Global Head of Insurance at KPMG International:
“The key issue currently in most countries is to enable rapid testing of individuals, particularly people in vulnerable populations such as the elderly or those with underlying health conditions, especially compromised immune systems. In most countries, this testing is free (provided by governments) or the costs are being waived by healthcare providers and/or health insurers.”
The World Nano Foundation and pandemic experts say regular use of mass lateral flow rapid antigen test kits (LFTs) is the way to beat COVID-19, its variants, and future viruses. It can help pinpoint virus cases, reducing likelihood of transmission and allowing those in education and the workplace to feel more secure.
As vaccination steps up, the next prize is to get economies moving, using LFTs and the mantra ‘test to suppress’, and as an early warning system to protect against new strains and future outbreaks.
Easy-to-use test gives results in 20 minutes
The simple-to-manufacture rapid tests, using recent nanotechnology breakthroughs, have shown a thousand-fold increase in the effectiveness and accuracy of testing. The kits can produce a positive result even when there are fewer viral antigens in the sample – vital for finding asymptomatic individuals and ‘super-spreaders’.
In what many believe is a game changer in preventing further lockdowns, LFTs have now also been mobilised by the UK Government for door-to-door delivery – it has secured more than 400 million such kits – for a test to suppress strategy and to address fears that the South African variant had broken out in areas of the country.
Other countries, including the US, Canada, Japan, France, and Hungary as well as industries including entertainment, aviation, travel, and energy are now adopting this regular rapid testing strategy.
Innova Medical, the world's largest manufacturer of LFTs is ramping up production from its current 10 million kits a day to 50 million by spring, confirming also that its COVID-19 product can detect the apparently more contagious UK (Kent), South African, and Brazilian variants.
"As these dangerous strains show signs of increased transmissibility across communities, the global effort to eliminate COVID-19 requires frequent, comprehensive and equitable testing that can detect these emerging strains," said Daniel Elliott, President and CEO of Innova Medical Group.
Elliot added that numerous studies show rapid antigen tests are an important tool for identifying infectious people quickly and equitably, even when they may not have COVID-19 symptoms, in ways not possible with slower, more expensive, centralised lab-based tests.
The entertainment and sports industries are said to be looking at a ‘day pass’ testing approach using LFT kits, just as temperature checks were made on people using restaurants and pubs between lockdowns.
World Health Organisation Special Envoy on COVID-19, David Nabarro, had already suggested this approach:
"We’ve seen it (rapid mass testing) used in many different locations, for example in trying to keep aircraft free of people who’ve got COVID or looking after major events.”
Oxford University researchers found the UK Government's most sensitive LFTs detected 83-90% of all infectious cases of COVID-19 - the UK has invested more than £1.5bn in these test kits so far.
And Oxford’s Regius Professor of Medicine, Sir John Bell underlined the benefit of these tests removing infectious people from high-risk environments: “They’ve found 25,000 cases just in healthcare, which may have prevented tens of thousands of cases of the disease.”
Tim Peto, Professor of Medicine, Infectious Disease, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, Oxford University addressed the contrasts between PCR (polymerase chain reaction) swab testing and lateral flow kits:
“PCR is very good at telling you’ve had the virus or got the virus, but it doesn’t tell you whether you are infectious or not and the other problem about the swab test is that it takes a day or two…to get the answer back. The LFT has the enormous advantage of giving you an answer in about 30 minutes.”
He said this allows immediate self-isolation and individuals can also quickly advise their contacts so, “within a few hours, a local outbreak can be detected. This can’t be done with the swab (PCR) tests” adding that LFTs “detect people with high viral loads…the very people who are infectious.”
The World Nano Foundation (WNF) promotes healthcare technology and predicts that mass testing is central to future pandemic protection.
The not-for-profit organisation’s Co-founder Paul Sheedy said: “Our research shows how healthcare diagnostics technology will shift dramatically to a more decentralised community early intervention model, against potential epidemics and pandemics.
“Our own COVIDlytics™ modelling shows that an intensive front line ‘test to suppress’ campaign using rapid test kits available to the individual will allow early detection and immediate isolation, reducing the need for lockdowns.
“And our simulation maps how consecutive daily tests for three days can rapidly identify and isolate infectious people. Weekly testing can then sustain a low infection rate even in a large population.
“A key point previously missed by some experts is that high quality rapid LFTs are not for people who already think they have COVID-19; it’s about everyone else testing frequently to check they are not infectious.
“Used alongside vaccines and other preventative methods, these simple tests have been developed from colloidal gold nanoparticle research and are a vital component in defeating the virus and it’s future variants.
“Rapid community testing is simpler, faster, cheaper, more effective and mobilises everyone to help themselves, their relatives, friends, and colleagues, to keep everyone safe.
“We know there are even more exciting technologies on the way that will be central to the world’s fight for pandemic protection and future healthcare.
“We have already seen the danger from not being on our guard against renewed viral threats. Spanish Flu struck in 1918, killing up to 50 million people in four waves, the last two being most deadly because public health warnings were not adhered to.”
Sheedy predicted a post-COVID healthcare revolution with sectorinvestment forecast to grow nearly 50% a year towards a market set to be worth $1.333 trillion by 2027(source: pitchbook investment monitoring January 2021). The acceleration highlights wide recognition that the world cannot afford the human and economic cost of another pandemic.
Some capital to fuel that phenomenal growth could come from the Pandemic Protection alternative investment fund operated by Vector Innovation Fund in Luxembourg, focused on limiting the effect of long form Covid-19 and guarding against future pandemics, whilst minimising any impact on the global economy and healthcare provision and preparedness.
The World Nano Foundation is a not-for-profit membership organisation with 75,000 subscribers and users in 40 countries working on international commercialisation of nanoscale technologies in 16 industry sectors and collaborates with a wide variety of partners, maximising support and funding bringing advanced technology to the world and commerce. This is supported by many industry and academic groups developing and creating a legacy for nanotechnology innovation.