Coronavirus testing needs to be done in a “matter of hours” in order to prevent a second wave, an expert has said.
Infectious disease specialist Professor David Heymann said that a second wave, or a resurgence of the virus, is not “inevitable” and could be mitigated with certain requirements.
Rapid diagnostics and contact tracing, quarantining of contacts and isolation of sick people – including isolation in health facilities – will interrupt the chain of transmission of the virus, according to Prof Heymann, who helped shut down the Sars outbreak in 2003.
Another way is to closely monitor different sectors or localities for infection rates followed by swift lockdowns, he told a Chatham House briefing on Covid-19.
“A second wave is not inevitable if countries, such as the UK, begin to contact tracing which is necessary to detect patients and to evaluate their contacts,” he said.
“In other words, there needs to be systems that detect cases wherever they occur.
“They need to then be rapidly diagnosed – and that means within hours rather than in days – and then contacts of those patients need to be identified and they need to be asked to self-quarantine.
“If they become sick during that period, then they should be tested, and they should be isolated in a health facility or away from others if they are absolutely shown to be infected.
“That’s one way countries can be sure that they will be able to interrupt transmission chains that might go into communities from contacts. Another way is to closely monitor different sectors in the country.
“And if there’s increased transmission in one area – in one geographic area or in one sector – then there may be a need to lock down a sector in that area, such as is done in Asia, using what they call circuit breakers.
“For example, nightclubs in South Korea were found to be a great risk to transmission. They were shut down for a time then they were opened again, and they’ve been left open because the risk of transmission has decreased.
“Schools in Singapore (worked) in the same way – they were left open, transmission was seen to be occurring, they were closed down and now they are open again, and transmission seems to have modified.
“So it just depends on what kind of system is set up in the United Kingdom as we move forward.
“Shielding the elderly – vital; shielding those with comorbidities – vital; detection systems for cases – vital; and then contact tracing to make sure that transmission into the communities is interrupted.
“In addition to monitoring what’s going on in various sectors to determine if there’s going to be temporary circuit breakers or lockdowns.”
But Prof Heymann added: “But if countries can’t keep the virus suppressed, then there will be what some countries will call a second wave what others will call a resurgence of the virus.”
It comes as leading doctors and nurses called on officials to launch a rapid review to ensure steps are being taken to prevent a second wave on infections.
Doctors and nurses have called for the Government to conduct a review to ensure that the country is prepared for a second wave and gets “ahead of the curve”.
This review should focus “areas of weakness” where action is needed to prevent further deaths and help restore the economy, they said in a letter published in The BMJ.
The letter, signed by doctors’ and nursing unions and the leaders of medical royal colleges, states that the areas which need rapid attention include:
– Procurement of goods and services; the disproportionate effect Covid-19 has on black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities and people.
– Mitigation of any difficulties posed by Brexit.
– And “coordination of existing structures, in a way designed to optimise the establishment of effective public health and communicable disease control infrastructure, the resilience of the NHS as a whole, and the shielding of vulnerable individuals and communities”.