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Source: United Kingdom – Executive Government & Departments

The UK government has published the detail of its ‘five pillar’ strategy for scaling up the UK’s COVID-19 testing programme.

Prof Martin Hibberd, Professor of Emerging Infectious Disease, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said:

“The release of the details behind the five pillars of testing is a welcome development.  Finally, we can see a realistic plan to move towards where we need to be in order to start beating this outbreak.  These five pillars will all need to be in place before we can start to lift the current social distancing requirements, so we hope they can be delivered soon.  I would add that there is still one pillar missing – contact tracing, which would allow people to recognise when they have been in contact with a SARS-CoV-2 positive case and allow additional, targeted testing.  This contact tracing could be done on a voluntary basis and huge developments in this field mean that there are now informative apps for everyone’s smart phones that can help with this.

“With the development of this new governmental transparency in their policy, we should also now be starting to see the plans and requirements the government has for the next stage in social distancing.  When mass testing is available and we have quarantining of positive cases, there will then be scope for a little bit of relaxing of the social distancing requirements.  If we can prepare this in advance and get the logistics, planning and positioning, etc. all in place, we will at some point in future be ready to take a step out.  We need to avoid the problems we had in February, where we did not take sufficient advantage of the time available to us, leaving us unprepared for March.  This time it is our own lock down that will buy us some time to help the NHS.  The whole point of the current lock down is to reduce the numbers of cases and buy us the time required to put in place more sophisticated measures to replace part of them.  These new measures need to be strong enough to stop the numbers rising fast again.

“We will all need to step out carefully when we do though, or in one month’s time, we will be back to where we are now.  The only way out of this more permanently, given that COVID-19 is unlikely to disappear from the world in the foreseeable years, is a treatment for the disease, which may occur in the next few months if there is a current drug that can be re-purposed to treat the disease, or a vaccine – which may take another year.”

Dr Rupert Beale, Group Leader, Cell Biology of Infection Laboratory, Francis Crick Institute, said:

“The testing strategy as outlined represents a welcome change of approach.  Commercial ‘kit’ based testing at a time when global demand for these proprietary reagents is so enormous will not be able to deliver all the tests we so desperately need.  The government has therefore embraced a diversity of testing strategies, all carefully benchmarked to ensure they are reliable.  Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute have been working in partnership with local NHS trusts night and day, every day of the week to ensure our colleagues in the NHS get the tests they require.  It will be a huge challenge to all of us to make sure we can deliver this massive testing capability with high reliability and quick turnaround times.  I firmly believe we can do it.”


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