Tests for Covid-19 that show on-the-spot results in 15 to 30 minutes are about to be rolled out across the world, potentially saving many thousands of lives and slowing the pandemic in both poor and rich countries.

In a triumph for a global initiative to get vital drugs and vaccines to fight the virus, 120 million rapid antigen tests from two companies will be supplied to low- and middle-income countries for £3.90 each or even less.

The UK has signed up to the Access to Covid tools initiative and will also be able to order the tests. The initiative was launched in March by the WHO, the European commission, the Gates Foundation and the French government.

The UK government is keen to get rapid virus tests, which were central to the “moonshot” proposals leaked recently, but it is not clear if they intend to buy these tests. It has invested in British-made saliva tests as well as rapid antigen tests, both of which take about 90 minutes. Saliva tests are being trialled in Salford and Southampton, while DnaNudge, which uses a swab read by a Nudgebox, is in use in some NHS hospitals.