Matt Hancock told the select health committee on Friday that police, firefighters, prisons and Ministry of Labor and Pensions staff would now be eligible for coronavirus testing as the country became increasingly concerned that its target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per day by the end of April.
A former WHO director said at the hearing that the search, testing and isolation of contacts could have continued longer in the UK and would have allowed the government to lock London while leaving other regions of the country with fewer restrictions.
Professor Anthony Costello, head of the Institute for Global Health at University College London, pointed out that Yorkshire had fewer than 10 cases identified in 300,000 to 400,000 people around the time of contact tracing and the community tests were stopped and, as such, could have avoided a complete foreclosure.
Critics have said that the UK is too quick to stop the universal testing of people with symptoms and to track their recent contacts, who may then be asked to self-isolate.
WHO has repeatedly urged governments to continue the strategy, which has been essential in stopping epidemics in the world in modern times. “The follow-up of each contact must be the backbone of the response in each country,” said managing director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in March.
Other countries such as Singapore and South Korea have used it successfully to contain their epidemics, while Germany, which has a much lower case and death rate than the United Kingdom, has also worked hard on finding contacts.
But on March 12, Boris Johnson announced that the British epidemic could no longer be contained in this way. The tests were then limited to those who were admitted to the hospital and contact tracing was interrupted. The number of cases and deaths in the UK skyrocketed and a lockout was imposed on March 23.