Second wave could be twice as big without proper test and trace

Henrietta Strickland
August 5, 2020

Schools will be returning in September.

Scientists have warned that reopening schools could trigger a serious second COVID-19 peak unless the NHS Test and Trace system is improved.

"And as it surges back the way you stop outbreaks developing is through having well-functioning contact tracing linked to testing with isolating people who have got symptoms or who've been in contact".

The study - which was carried out by University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) - simulated how Covid-19 may spread when schools reopen their doors.

His comments come as a scientist behind one of the rapid new Covid-19 tests - which promise results in 90 minutes - said that mass testing the public for Covid-19 could lead to the rest of society being able to reopen - including sports grounds and theatres.

The modelling study - which simulates various scenarios - examined the possible implications of schools reopening in the United Kingdom coupled with broader reopening of society, such as more parents returning to the workplace and increased socialising within the community.

They concluded that a second wave could be prevented if 75 per cent of those with symptoms were found and tested and 68 per cent of their contacts were traced, or if 87 per cent of people with symptoms were found and 40 per cent of their contacts tested.

The study comes as Australian research found there were "low" levels of coronavirus transmission in schools and nurseries.

This could "spill over" into other parts of the population, therefore closing "other networks" could be required to reopen schools from next month.

He said 184,000 people, either those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or their contacts, have been contacted by the NHS Test and Trace system, calling it a "massive success".

Chris Bonell, a public health sociologist at the LSHTM and one of the authors of the study, was quoted by Sky News as saying: "Our findings suggest that it might be possible [to avoid] a secondary epidemic wave in the United Kingdom, if enough people with symptomatic infection can be diagnosed and their contacts traced and effectively isolated". It all depends on the other measures and the level of TTI coverage. "Looking at the NHS reports from the TTI system, it looks like it's about 50 per cent coverage".

The second wave will be twice as big, as during the first wave people were placed in lockdown, therefore it was contained.

"There's nothing gung-ho about getting schools back".

Dr Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths, senior research fellow and lecturer in mathematical modelling, at the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, UCL, added: "Our result show that reopening schools fully in September will not lead to a second wave if accompanied by a comprehensive test, trace and isolate strategy".

Data published on Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that 51,596 deaths involving COVID-19 occurred in England and Wales up to 24 July, and had been registered by 1 August.

Together, these figures mean that so far 56,651 deaths have been registered in the United Kingdom where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including suspected cases. There is little doubt about the major damage that it does to children's education not to be in school.

A Government spokesman said: "Plans have been put in place to ensure schools can re-open safely".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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