Rapid COVID-19 tests provide lifeline for London orchestra

Violinist Maxine Kwok plays Bizet's "Carmen Suite" in a socially-distanced London Symphony Orchestra rehearsal after a lab-free rapid Covid-19 bubble test gives them the confidence to perform again at LSO St Luke's in London, Britain November 24, 2020, in this still image taken from a video.

Maxine Kwok, a violinist in London’s oldest symphony orchestra, is delighted that rehearsals have resumed thanks to a rapid, lab-free COVID-19 test that gives the musicians the confidence to work together again.

“It was so difficult not to play for months,” Kwok, a member of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), said after being tested. “But the moment that we were able to have this kind of testing at this regularity, meaning we could just come back to work and feel comfortable and safe, really made a huge difference for us,” Kwok told Reuters.

“I was so thrilled. I can’t describe it really,” she added ahead of a rehearsal attended by around 40 musicians, all masked and still observing social distancing rules.

Once a month, the musicians provide a phlegm sample by spitting into a small pot which is tested in groups, called bubbles, by Imperial College London spin-off DNANudge with their cartridge-based technology that gives a result in just over an hour.”The bubble test is really relevant when you’ve got organisations that work together and they need to get back to work,” said Professor Chris Toumazou, chief executive of DNANudge, outside the LSO rehearsal studio in east London.

“For example the London Symphony Orchestra, key to the arts industry, they need to rehearse together. Just having one bubble test or a couple of bubble tests for the entire orchestra means they can be tested on the day of rehearsals,” he said.

Testing more than one phlegm sample at a time significantly increases testing capacity, maximizing the number of people who can be tested over a given period while using fewer testing resources.

“… to know that you start every four weeks with a clean group, everyone negative, is a huge confidence to everyone in the organisation,” said Kathryn McDowell, the LSO’s Managing Director, adding that other “mitigating measures” such as masks and social distancing also remained important.

DNANudge is providing Britain’s National Health Service with nearly six million rapid COVID-19 test kits at a not-for-profit cost price but it’s also making them available to people without symptoms seeking reassurance on whether they could be infectious, including key workers and travellers.

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