Anthony Fauci: Strengthen the WHO to beat repeated coronavirus threats

Britain to roll out hundreds of millions of rapid five-minute Covid-19 tests

Shoppers walk along a very busy Regent Street in London, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, as Britain prepared to join large swathes of Europe in a coronavirus lockdown designed to save its health care system from being overwhelmed. Pubs, along with restaurants, hairdressers and shops selling non-essential items will have to close Thursday until at least Dec. 2. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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The leading US infectious diseases official, Anthony Fauci, publicly broke with President Donald Trump to call for strengthening the World Health Organisation as he predicted the current pandemic would not last "much longer".

The leading figure in the world of American public health said vaccines would be rolled out very shortly to provide protection against the disease. He said the vaccines coming onstream would not finish off Covid-19 nor would it end the threat to society from novel coronavirus emerging.

"I doubt we’re going to eradicate this," he told a Chatham House panel. "We need to plan that this is something we need to maintain control over chronically, and maybe something that becomes endemic.

"Help is on the way but it isn't here yet. It’s certainly not going to be pandemic for a lot longer."

The need for an international body to lead that fight was obvious, he said. Dr Fauci was forced to stand by as Mr Trump announced the US would pull out of the WHO over its failure to stop the pandemic when it was first circulating in China. As president-elect Joe Biden has said, however, that the US will remain in the organisation under his leadership. "The WHO needs to be strengthened," Dr Fauci said.

The vaccines under development were proving to be safe and effective according to standard testing practices, Dr Fauci said, despite fears of treatment being rushed. He suggested resistance to a vaccine could be traced to the drastic nature of the lockdowns imposed to limit the spread of infections.

"There has been no compromise in safety or scientific integrity," he said. "Science is felt to be authoritative and there has been a pushback on authority. People do not like to be told what to do."

While daily infections in the US are now back above 100,000, Dr Fauci said the country would rely on social distancing and other practices to contain the disease. "We are not talking about shutting down," he said. 
Efforts to cope with the virus in Britain led the government to set out plans to buy hundreds of millions of rapid coronavirus tests to chart a course out of the crisis.

The 200 million tests – enough to test everyone in the country three times over – cost £5 ($6.56) each and take 15 minutes to produce a result.

Authorities, meanwhile, are planning weekly tests of the most vulnerable 10 per cent of the population.

It is understood the kits could also be used for mass testing under the government’s Operation Moonshot strategy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously said mass testing was his lockdown "exit strategy".

A study released by the University of Oxford and Public Health England on Wednesday suggested the rapid tests were able to detect 77 per cent of people who were Covid positive.

Detection rates rose to 95 per cent in those with high viral loads, the study found.

Sir John Bell, an Oxford scientist who advises the government, said the tests could be rolled out as daily “freedom passes”, allowing people to go about their lives unimpeded by virus restrictions.

He told MPs: “These inexpensive, easy-to-use tests can play a major role in our fight against Covid-19.

“They identify those who are likely to spread the disease, and when used systematically in mass testing could reduce transmissions by 90 per cent.”

A soldier assists a member of the public as they take a covid test in a booth before passing it to soldiers for processing at a testing centre set up in St John's Market in Liverpool, north west England on November 11, 2020, during a city-wide mass testing pilot operation.  Liverpool on November 6 began England's first city-wide trial of coronavirus testing in an attempt to prevent hospitals becoming overwhelmed during the country's second wave of the pandemic. All of the northwestern city's 500,000 residents as well as people working there will be offered repeat tests, even if asymptomatic, under the pilot trial, which will initially run for two weeks.

 / AFP / Paul ELLIS
A soldier assists a member of the public as they take a Covid test in Liverpool. AFP

A two-week mass testing pilot scheme is under way in Liverpool.

Mayor Joe Anderson, whose brother died from Covid, urged Liverpudlians to get tested amid concerns that not enough of the city’s 500,000 population were coming forward.

He said 220 people tested positive from 44,233 tests carried out by noon on Wednesday.

Mass testing is seen as critical for the easing of virus restrictions before a vaccine is rolled out to large segments of the population.

Scientists continued to call for more information from Pfizer over its “90 per cent effective” vaccine.

Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, said among the key questions were whether people could still spread the virus despite being vaccinated.

'Unanswered questions'

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If they can transmit the virus, then that same vaccine doesn't protect vulnerable groups, unfortunately what we can see is almost an increased risk to vulnerable groups."

He said it was “not a crazy idea” to suggest that might happen and wanted to know if the vaccine worked for high-risk groups.

“The polio vaccine doesn’t stop you being infected with polio. People who receive the vaccine can still shed it,” he said.

“It’s not a crazy idea, it’s not outside the bounds of reality, it is an important question.”

Prof John Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer, said on Wednesday he had full faith in the UK's safety standards, and encouraged his own mother to be inoculated against coronavirus.