An advert for a coronavirus “passport” app, which has been promoted by Zara Tindall, has been referred to the medical regulator over concerns it contradicts health guidance.
The V-Health Passport allows Covid test results to be uploaded to a phone – meaning people can demonstrate they are safe to attend sports and other events.
But in an ad to promote it, Mrs Tindall is shown having an antibody test.
Government guidance says those do not test if you currently have the virus.
VST Enterprises, which owns the app, said the particular antibody test it used in the advert could identify “the early stages of infection.”
The platform has been submitted to the government as a way of getting fans safely back into sports stadiums, VST Enterprises said.
Mrs Tindall, an Olympic medal-winning equestrian and the Queen’s granddaughter, features in an advert for the app with her husband Mike, a member of England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup winning squad.
She explains that the app can be used by sports men and women, as well as support staff, volunteers and fans, to give them confidence to attend large events again. After taking a test, the user’s results are uploaded to their “passport,” with a green tick indicating they have tested negative for coronavirus.
Mr Tindall has described the device as a potential “game-changer” for getting fans back to watching sports.
‘Might increase risk’
In the video, viewers are told that Mrs Tindall is taking a test to see if she “currently” has the virus or whether she had previously had it. When her results are revealed, she is told she is “clearly negative” for Covid-19 “current” infection.
However, the video shows Mrs Tindall having an antibody test. Government guidance says such a test is limited to answering whether someone has previously been infected by Covid and understanding the spread of the virus.
It says antibody tests cannot tell you if you can or cannot spread the virus to other people.
Jon Deeks, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Birmingham, says reported it to the regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
“If people use these tests, they get a negative result and they go and think they haven’t got Covid when they could actually still be infectious, that might mean that people don’t social distance and so on,” he said.
“And that might increase the risk of actually spreading Covid.”
He has argued the tests would still miss cases in the very early stages of infection – when people are most likely to pass on the disease.
Simon Clarke, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading, said the government was right to say that antibody tests cannot test for current infection.
“They are a poor diagnostic and that is why they are not used,” he said. “They are used to look to see who has had the infection in the past.”
The BBC has approached Mr and Mrs Tindall for a comment.
VST Enterprises said the particular antibody test featured in its video was used for “illustrative purposes.” It said it was correct that antibody tests are usually only used to identify previous infection.
But the company said the one it had featured was different – because it tested for antibodies that presented as early as three to four days after infection. That meant it was possible to use the test to screen for “possible current infection.”
In a statement, it added: “In this particular instance the V-Health Passport was demonstrating how a rapid Covid test kit could be used. It will work with any test that is recommended by government.”
An MHRA spokesperson said it takes “every complaint seriously and we will investigate when necessary to protect public health.”
It comes as most sports in England have been played behind closed doors since lockdown was introduced in March. The chief executives of the Premier League and the Rugby Football League have urged the government to allow the return of crowds to games as soon as possible.
But in September, the government halted a plan for a phased return of spectators because of rising coronavirus case numbers.