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Kiwi innovators have joined forces with the global company behind airport “eGates” on technology designed to quickly screen future travellers for immunity against the coronavirus.
Dubbed a “lab on a disk”, Orbis Diagnostics’ tech is currently the only one of its kind in the world suitable to be rolled out in airports, and capable of rapidly detecting whether someone was capable of carrying the virus.
Today, the Kiwi company announced it had partnered with multinational company Idemia, which invented biometric passport eGates, and that it wanted to carry out local trials with people in quarantine facilities, subject to Government approval.
Orbis chief executive Brent Ogilvie said the tech had the same level of accuracy as complex quantitative immunity tests carried out in medical labs.
But in this case, the system, presently in final-phase testing, could produce results within 15 minutes, for 15 to 30 people at a time.
“Quantitative immunity testing is key to confidently verifying whether a person has sufficient immunity against Covid-19,” he said.
“It is well understood that high levels of antibodies against certain parts of viruses can rapidly neutralise and prevent infection; such antibodies are known as neutralising antibodies.”
The company, led by renowned University of Auckland scientist Professor David Williams, had specifically targeted its tech at quickly quantifying these fast-acting antibodies.
“In the absence of verifying a person’s immunity, it will be challenging for governments to have the confidence to reduce current border and travel restrictions.”
Originally designed for use in animal health, the system was turned to Covid-19 antibody levels over the past year.
Ogilvie said it was now in its end stages and, while it required final phase studies and manufacture scale-up, the company aimed to roll out the system halfway through the year.
The company has proposed to the Government carrying out a 12-week trial with quarantining travellers to demonstrate its system could work at scale.
“We will also monitor those individuals to confirm that they do not develop the disease,” he said.
In piloting it here, the Government could gain confidence in the tech, he said.
“Unlike other countries who are dealing with the ‘here and now’, New Zealand has the luxury to look into the future and adopt long-term sustainable solutions that will allow us to safely reopen our borders.”
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the tech appeared promising, but added that it had yet to be fully evaluated.
New Zealand currently wasn’t considering point-of-care testing for Covid-19.
Idemia’s Oceania managing director, Xavier Assouad, expected immunity screening to become a “crucial element” of the world resuming travel.
“As part of the innovation process, we are exploring an integration of the Orbis solution with Idemia’s Mobile ID and border control platform – notably for risk assessment purposes.”