NHS tracking app must do ‘heavy lifting’ to avoid second virus peak, claims chief scientific adviser

Written by Beckie Smith on 11 May 2020 in News
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Sir Patrick Vallance believes UK ‘should be able to avoid a second wave’ of Covid-19

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A system of testing, tracking and tracing cases of Covid-19 could enable the UK to lift lockdown measures and avoid a second peak of the virus, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has said.

Speaking to the Health and Social Care Committee last week, Vallance said he expected a track-and-trace app currently being trialled in the Isle of Wight would do “more of the heavy lifting” on controlling the outbreak than social distancing once the pandemic was under control in the UK.

“The plan now is to absolutely get this under control with social-distancing measures, get the number of new cases down to a manageable number, and then to take more of the heavy lifting with testing and tracking of contacts and therefore allow some of the release of social distancing measures – but to do it in a way that’s part of a system that can pick up early outbreaks,” Vallance told MPs.


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The government has ramped up its testing capacity in recent weeks, driven in part by a promise by health secretary Matt Hancock to ensure 100,000 tests were conducted every day by the end of April.

And NHSX is now testing across the Isle of Wight a track-and-trace app that uses Bluetooth to alert users if and when they come into contact with a person who has coronavirus, with a view to rolling it out nationally if it proves successful.

“That is going to have to be a national system but with enough local and regional granularity to be able to pick up small fires picking up around the place,” Vallance said.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said earlier this month that government could reintroduce restrictions that have been lifted “in a specific and localised way… in order to deal with localised outbreaks of the disease”.

If a system of testing, tracking and tracing cases is implemented well and social-distancing measures are used at an appropriate level, Vallance said “we should be able to avoid a second wave” of the disease.

A key element of the government’s strategy for tackling coronavirus is ensuring that there is not a “second peak” of the disease once lockdown measures are lifted.

Vallance said that while he was “optimistic” this could be achieved, it was with the caveat that this winter – bringing with it seasonal flu and other respiratory infections that can be confused with Covid-19 – “is going to be very difficult”.

 

About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where this story first appeared. She tweets as @beckie__smith.

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