Contact tracing key to virus control falls flat in the west

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“You have to have people’s trust for this to work, and the trust comes from taking care of me,” said Dr Jason Wang, professor of health policy at Stanford University who studied coronavirus response in Taiwan. “If I’m sick, will you help me or just quarantine me?” Will you get me tested in time? “

With test results lagging behind in many countries, contact tracers cannot get ahead of the virus. In Paris, people wait up to a week for appointments and test results. England recently had a backlog of nearly 200,000 untested lab samples, making it impossible to track the virus in newly reopened schools.

Danielle Lennon, who lives in the hard-hit north-east of England, sat in a mile-long line of idling cars for almost an hour to get her 7-year-old daughter tested, only for someone to announce that the test center was closed.

“The government has kind of lost the general public on this, through incompetence,” she said.

Some elected leaders have criticized recalcitrant citizens for undermining contact tracing. Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently said the problem was that Britain was “a freedom-loving country”.

But the evidence for such claims is slim. Some countries have managed to keep up with the virus, despite people’s resistance, largely by investing in chronically underfunded health services, epidemiologists have said.

In Germany, people have said they will refuse to give names to tracers at double the rate of Britons, according to a survey by Imperial College London. Despite this, the country has largely contained a slight increase in new infections.

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