Great Britain

Surge in fake coronavirus tests and ‘miracle cures’ sold online, medicines watchdog warns

BRITS are being warned over a surge in fake coronavirus tests and "miracle cures" being sold online, the medicines watchdog has warned.

Bogus medical products claiming to treat or prevent Covid-19, including self-testing kits and "antiviral misting sprays", have popped up online.

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The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) says it is currently investigating 14 cases of such unlicensed items being sold through unauthorised websites.

There are currently no medicines that are licensed specifically to treat or prevent Covid-19, meaning that any claiming to do so have not undergone required regulatory approval for sale in the UK.

Don't be fooled by online offers for medical products to help prevent or treat Covid-19

Lynda ScammellMedicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)

The MHRA says it has already disabled nine domain names and social media accounts for selling fake coronavirus-related products.

"Don't be fooled by online offers for medical products to help prevent or treat Covid-19," said Lynda Scammell, MHRA enforcement official.

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"We cannot guarantee the safety or quality of the product and this poses a risk to your health.

"The risk of buying medicines and medical devices from unregulated websites are that you just don't know what you will receive and could be putting your health at risk.

"We are working alongside other law enforcement agencies to combat this type of criminal activity."

Ramp up testing

The Government is ramping up testing and has already ordered 17.5million kits from nine different makers in the hope they would work.

Officials suggest the Covid-19 checks - which reveal if people have been infected and are now resistant - would be rolled out this month.

Brits testing positive could then “confidently go back to work”, helping bring an end to the UK’s strict lockdown restrictions.

Boris Johnson hailed the checks as a potential “game-changer” in mid-March and said they were fast "coming down the track".

However, one expert has warned that an effective antibody test will not be available until May at the earliest.

Professor Sir John Bell, who is leading the Oxford team evaluating them, says none of the checks tested so far are up to scratch.

He said Brit scientists are now working with makers to improve their reliability, but add: “This will take at least a month.”

None of the tests we have validated would meet the criteria for a good test

Professor Sir John BellOxford University

Prof Bell, Covid Scientific Advisory Panel and Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, said: “Multiple tests have been provided for evaluation.

"Sadly, the tests we have looked at to date have not performed well.

“None of the tests we have validated would meet the criteria for a good test. This is not a good result for test suppliers or for us.”

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Prof Bell said other nations were having similar problems, with Spain sending tests back because they don’t work.

Downing Street said it will seek refunds from companies that cannot improve the failed antibody tests ordered by the Government.

The PM's official spokesman said: “No test so far has proved to be good enough to use.

“We continue to work with the testing companies, we're in a constant dialogue with them and we give feedback to them when their products fail to meet the required standards.”

England's top doctor also said effective antibody testing could now be months away.

Speaking at a Downing Street briefing, Prof Chris Whitty said: "I am very confident we will develop antibody tests, whether they be lab-based or dipstick-based over the next period. I'm very confident of that.

"The fact that we have not, in our first pass, in the first things that people produced, got ones which are highly effective is not particularly surprising to anybody who understands how tests are developed.

"I would expect those to continue to improve potentially on the dipstick-side and definitely on the lab-side which would be available in due course through the NHS over time."

Report fakes

In the meantime, the Government is urging Brits not to attempt to buy medicines or treatments for coronavirus online.

The MHRA's ongoing campaign, #FakeMeds, aims to encourage people who buy medical products online to make sure they are purchasing from legitimate sources.

It advises that all medicines and medical devices should be bought from registered pharmacies, either from the premises or online.

Suspicious products can be reported to the MHRA via their monitoring system, the Yellow Card Scheme.

Anyone who thinks they may have been a victim of fraud relating to the purchase of medical products or personal protective equipment (PPE) should also report to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau online or by calling 0300 123 2040.

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