Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: Lancet report warns countries need effective test and trace systems before easing lockdowns

Spain and UK highlighted as countries where Covid-19 measures have failed

UK Police patrol London on the first day of the new earlier closing times for pubs and bars in England and Wales, introduced to combat the spread of the coronavirus. AFP / Tolga AKMEN
UK Police patrol London on the first day of the new earlier closing times for pubs and bars in England and Wales, introduced to combat the spread of the coronavirus. AFP / Tolga AKMEN

Countries need to introduce effective testing and contact tracing systems before easing coronavirus lockdown measures, a report in the Lancet warns.

Researchers have highlighted Spain and the UK as places that have struggled to manage the pandemic and say they act as a warning for the “enormous potential” for resurgence if “comprehensive safeguards” were not in place.

The report examined the successes and failures of lockdown exit strategies in nine countries.

It highlighted five key factors that should be taken into account before measures are eased.

They include knowledge of infection levels, community engagement, public health capacity, health system capacity and border control measures.

The report says all countries should be aiming to implement a “zero-Covid” policy.

Lead author of the study, Dr Helena Legido-Quigley, of the National University of Singapore and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it was not too late for governments to introduce new tactics.

“Our review of international experiences identifies lessons governments can learn from each other’s successes and failures,” Dr Legido-Quigley said.

“We are not advising that the exact same measures should be replicated in different countries, but it is not too late for governments to consider novel policy solutions developed by other countries and adapt them to fit their own context.

“Covid-19 is a serious disease that will be with us for a long time.

"There is increasing realisation that easing of lockdown is not about returning to a pre-pandemic normal, and governments have to find strategies that will prevent rapid growth of infections in ways that are sustainable and acceptable to the public over many months.”

The report analyses the strategies for easing Covid-19 restrictions in four Asia-Pacific countries – Japan, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea – and Hong Kong; and four in Europe, which are Germany, Norway, Spain and the UK.

It says experience with past pandemics in the Asia-Pacific has meant they were more prepared than European countries.

In Spain and the UK, policies of economic austerity weakened health systems in the years leading to the current crisis.

“As some countries around the world begin to see a resurgence in cases and retighten restrictions, it is imperative that countries learn the lessons that we’ve laid out for the future,” said the paper’s co-author, Prof Martin McKee, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The paper says there are “no simple solutions” but “great benefits” in learning from the experiences of others.

“For communities to reopen safely, control measures to reduce transmission will be needed for some time, including face masks and social distancing," it says.

"New Zealand’s social bubbles provide a successful example of sustainable measures as they allow for social interaction while reducing transmission.

“For control measures to work, governments must educate and engage with the public, building trust, and selecting appropriate measures that the public are willing to comply with.

"The public should be directly involved in the process of producing measures appropriate for the local context.

“Countries should not ease restrictions until they have robust systems in place to closely monitor the infection situation.

"Continued measures to reduce transmission will be needed for some time.

“Although the future of Covid-19 is unknown at present, countries should plan and prepare for the worst-case scenario.”

The report's publishing comes as the UK recorded its highest ever daily total of new cases on Thursday, with 6,634.

Spain’s total number of confirmed infections passed 704,000.

The Spanish Health Minister, Salvador Illa, said there would be “tough weeks” ahead in Madrid and stricter measures are expected to be implemented.

Updated: September 25, 2020 02:59 AM

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