Covid-19 track and trace: what can the UK learn from countries that have done it right? | News from the world


Boris Johnson’s insistence that the UK will be able to deploy a world-leading coronavirus testing, tracking and tracing regime by June 1 has inevitably drawn country comparisons from around the world who have already implemented effective Covid-19 tracking programs.

It also raised questions about the schedule, as some experts insisted that a system would have been more useful at the start of the pandemic.

Contact tracing is one of the most basic tracks of public health responses to a pandemic like the coronavirus. This literally means finding anyone with whom an infected person may have been in contact in the days before their illness. It has been – and will always be – at the heart of the fight against Ebola, for example. In West Africa in 2014-2015, there were large teams of people who tracked relatives and knocked on the doors of neighbors and friends to find anyone who might have been infected by touching the patient.

Most people who contract Covid-19 will be infected by their friends, neighbors, co-workers or family, so they will be the first on the list. It is unlikely that anyone will be infected by someone they do not know while passing on the street.

It is still assumed that there must be a reasonable exposure – originally, experts said that people should be together for 15 minutes, within 2 meters of each other. For example, a contact tracer will want to know who the positive person has met and talked to in the two or three days before developing symptoms and isolating themselves.

South Korea has large teams of contact tracers, including chasing all the contacts of a religious group, many of whose members have fallen ill. This epidemic has been effectively eliminated by contact tracing and quarantine.

Singapore and Hong Kong have also adopted testing and contact tracing, as has Germany. So far, all of these countries have recorded relatively low death rates. The World Health Organization says it should be “the backbone of the response” in every country.

Sarah Boseley Health Writer

Since mid-March, the World Health Organization has urged countries to step up testing, isolation and contact tracing of Covid-19 patients in order to fight the pandemic. Countries that started testing and tracing regimes early – notably Germany, South Korea, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Canada – fared better than those that didn’t. made.

How Covid-19 Contact Tracking Can Help Conquer the Pandemic

One of the most notable successes was South Korea, which started its diet several weeks before the WHO “test, test, test” call in March. The country was quickly able to test an average of 12,000 people a day – and sometimes as many as 20,000 – at hundreds of drive-in and walk-in test centers for free. The results were sent to people’s phones within 24 hours.

As some commentators have noted, the South Korean regime has been built on well-funded public services and efficient infrastructure, including extensive digital surveillance.

Germany has become another effective model. The country has conducted a rigorous test and trace program since the first case of the virus was registered in late January. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the government’s main advisory body on public health, has repeatedly called the program a basic epidemiological tool needed to control the virus.

The system has been hampered by a shortage of staff in the overworked local health authority offices responsible for implementing it, but over the weeks, hundreds of containment scouts – often medical students – have been trained by the RKI to help. About 500 of them are operational across the country.

Generally, when a new infection is recorded, a health inspector from the health unit asks the infected person the following questions: how long has he had symptoms, where may he have been infected, at work, who has she been in contact with and how, and are children of school or maternal age in the household?

Coronavirus deaths in Germany – graphic

The contacts are interviewed and classified into different categories by a team of at least ten collaborators, including doctors and containment scouts, then quarantined. Contacts are not tested automatically, to avoid a negative result that could trigger a false sense of security,

Canada, with its experience of being the only country outside of Asia to experience deaths in the 2003 Sars outbreak, also quickly tested and traced contacts. By mid-May, more than one million people had been tested for Covid-19 using a centralized network of laboratories.

Jimmy Whitworth, professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is among those who express skepticism about defining the UK test and traceability program as “global”.

“A global beat, at the start of an epidemic, should have had a system large enough to handle the number of tests needed,” said Whitworth. “Not just by sending them, but by making and reporting them so you can take action and have contact tracing so you can identify people who may be incubating the disease.”

“If we go back to the situation now, there remains a question about [having a test and trace programme] quite wide. ONS [Office for National Statistics] the data just released for England identifies 9,000 new cases per day.

“Successful programs like South Korea and Australia make 50 to 60 [contact] tests for each case. So we need to have a system capable of dealing with this number of tests. “


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