Rapid 30-minute coronavirus tests could miss as many as 30% of infections, according to a clinical evaluation.
The lateral flow tests generate a result from a swab without needing lab equipment and are currently being trialled in Liverpool.
They are being lined up as a way to significantly expand the testing of people without symptoms, including to potentially thousands of university students before they go home for Christmas.
An independent review for the government found them “highly reliable, sensitive and accurate”, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
It said the four best-performing lateral flow tests detected coronavirus in “more than 70%” of cases, with the one being used in Liverpool – the Innova test – at 76.8%.
That means as many as 30% of infected people could potentially be missed.
DHSC stressed however that the tests “catch all those with high viral loads” – meaning they find those most likely to spread the disease.
The Innova test was found to detect 95% of people with a high viral load, with “minimal difference” in its ability to pick up the virus in people with symptoms and those without.
Its false positive rate was 0.32%.
Nine lateral tests in were fully assessed by Public Health England’s renowned Porton Down laboratory and the University of Oxford.
DHSC said the results showed the tests should be used on a wider scale to test people without symptoms, adding capacity to the more accurate PCR tests already offered to people with symptoms.
The lateral flow tests offer fast results but must still be done by trained staff at special testing sites. However, experts are looking at how they could be self-administered.
The chief medical adviser of NHS Test and Trace said she was confident the lateral flow tests “will make a real difference”.
“These tests are proving to be accurate and reliable,” said Susan Hopkins.
“And, importantly they’re able to detect COVID-19 in people without symptoms who could unknowingly be passing the virus onto others…
“We are confident that these new tests, which have been rigorously evaluated, will make a real difference in how we protect people from this disease and help break chains of transmission.”