Failing to quarantine patients to blame for second wave, warns the WHO

Failing to quarantine patients to blame for second wave, warns the WHO

October 20, 2020

Failing to quarantine infected patients is to blame for second Covid-19 wave, warns the WHO in another jab at beleaguered contact tracing systems

  • WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan linked the spike in transmission to poor Covid-19 contact tracing
  • Dr Ryan said about half of European nations had seen roughly 50% increases in infections in the past week
  • The UK’s beleaguered Test and Trace is still failing to find four out of 10 people suspected of having Covid-19

A failure to quarantine enough coronavirus patients is to blame for the second wave rolling across Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

WHO emergencies director Dr Michael Ryan linked soaring transmission rates on the continent to failing contact tracing systems that were not catching and isolating enough close contacts of infected people.

Dr Ryan said about half of European nations had seen roughly 50 per cent increases in infections in the past week, with deaths and hospital admissions starting to trend the wrong way now too. The resurgence is being driven by growing outbreaks in the UK, France, Russia, Spain, the Netherlands and Ukraine.

He warned that poor track and trace programmes and flailing adherence to quarantine rules were ‘a good part of the reason why we’re seeing such high numbers’.  

The UK Government’s beleaguered Test and Trace – once hailed as world-beating by Boris Johnson – is still failing to find four out of 10 people suspected of having Covid-19.

With more than 100,000 people testing positive every week, it means tens of thousands of close contacts may have been allowed to walk the streets without knowing they were carrying the disease.  

Worldwide coronavirus cases passed the grim milestone of 40million on Monday, with more than 1.1 million deaths. Dr Ryan said about half of European nations had seen roughly 50 per cent increases in infections in the past week

Dr Michael Ryan, in charge of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said a failure to quarantine enough coronavirus patients is to blame for the second wave rolling across Europe

Worldwide, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases passed the grim milestone of 40million yesterday, with more than 1.1million deaths. 

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned against people getting fed up with the pandemic and the measures imposed to control it as swathes of Europe begin to impose second nationwide lockdowns. 

There was huge support in most European nations, including Britain, for a lockdown during the first wave of the virus in spring. 

But, eight months into the pandemic, adherence has started to dwindle, particularly as rules have chopped and changed and people’s pockets have been hit hard by the curbs.

Dr Ghebreyesus said: ‘We’re in this for the long haul, but there is hope that if we make smart choices together, we can keep cases down.’

‘I know there is a fatigue but the virus has shown that when we let our guard down, it can surge back at breakneck speed and threaten hospitals and health systems.’  

People across England are required by law to quarantine for ten days if they test positive for Covid-19 or are contacted by NHS Test and Trace. 

The World Health Organisation’s European boss has said that national lockdowns should only be a last resort but stated tough measures are ‘absolutely necessary.’

Hans Kluge urged the continent it was time to ‘step up the measures’ and said that the 700,000 cases recorded in the last week were of ‘great concern.’

But he warned that any total shutdowns should be avoided because of the ‘collateral damage’ which was caused by such crude measures.

Although lockdowns served a function in March when countries were caught on their heels, Kluge said that governments should now use ‘proportionate, targeted and time limited’ restrictions.

‘So lockdowns are a very last resort,’ he told a press briefing on Thursday. ‘Any nationwide tightening of decisions must consider both the direct risks, and the collateral damage associated with the pandemic.’ 

Kluge, who last week said 300,000 lives could be saved by tightening restrictions, called on countries to be ‘uncompromising’ in their efforts to control the spread of the disease at a press briefing earlier this month.

‘These measures are meant to keep us all ahead of the curve and to flatten its course,’ Kluge said. ‘It is therefore up to us to accept them while they are still relatively easy to follow instead of following the path of severity.’

He said that the coronavirus is now the fifth leading cause of death in Europe and noted the region recently surpassed the threshold of reporting 8,000 deaths per day.

Although Kluge said the higher figures could partly be attributed to higher testing rates, especially among younger people, he said that Europe had recorded its last new million cases in just 10 days.

But it emerged last week that the NHS Test and Trace system was missing 40 per cent of close contacts of infected patients.

Damning figures published by the Department for Health show the beleaguered system failed to speak to 81,000 contacts of Covid-19 cases in England in the first week of October.

It means tens of thousands of infected people may have been allowed to walk the streets without knowing they were carrying the disease.

And one-in-five Covid-19 positive patients aren’t reached for at least three days, meaning it is taking even longer to get to many of the contacts who are reached increasing the risk of the virus being spread before they develop symptoms. 

With UK officials struggling to catch and isolate possible carriers of the virus through the contract tracing measures, the Government has now granted police more powers to punish people who do test positive and end up breaking isolation rules.

As of September 28, police are now able to carry out spot checks and act on tip-offs to enforce the rules. 

And people ordered to quarantine after they or a contact test positive for the virus face a knock on the door from officers to check they are not leaving their home.  

Those who do not self-isolate – or employers who force staff to turn up to work – will be hit with fines of up to £10,000.

The police will be used to ‘check compliance’ with the rules and will investigate claims by informers that a person who should be in quarantine is flouting the requirement.

Officers will ‘investigate and prosecute high-profile and egregious cases of non-compliance’, and ‘act on instances where third parties have identified others who have tested positive, but are not self-isolating’.

The rules state that if someone receives a positive test result, they are required by law to self-isolate for ten days after they first displayed symptoms, or ten days after the date of the test if they did not have symptoms.

Other members of their household must self-isolate for 14 days after the onset of symptoms, or after the date of the positive test.

If someone is instructed to self-isolate because they have had close contact with someone outside their household who has tested positive, they are legally required to self-isolate for the period instructed by NHS Test and Trace.

Users of the NHS contact tracing app are not covered by the new rules. They are anonymous and the Government cannot force them to self-isolate.

People on lower incomes who cannot work from home and have lost income as a result will be eligible for a new £500 ‘test and trace support payment’.

The legal obligation to self-isolate has exemptions, including for those who need to escape from illness or harm during their isolation.

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