Test and trace can not control COVID-19 alone - health minister

·2 min read
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing centre in Liverpool

LONDON (Reuters) - British health minister Matt Hancock said that 'test and trace' can not control coronavirus in the way that an effective system of mass testing can, as he defended the performance of the heavily criticised contact-tracing system.

The test and trace system was inefficient and slow, Reuters found after speaking to tracers and analysing the data, making it inadequate to avoid a second wave and a new English national lockdown which started on Nov 5.

"The test and trace programme, ahead of the second lockdown, was functioning to reduce transmission enormously," Hancock told lawmakers.

"By the time of the second lockdown, it had already broken the chains of transmission hundreds of thousands of times."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised a "world-beating" test and trace system, but has since conceded that, while it is improving, it has fallen short of expectations.

Hancock downplayed the centrality of test and trace to the government's aim of controlling the virus, adding mass testing of the population would help do that

"Test and trace on its own cannot keep the virus under control," he said. "I think that mass testing does have that ability to do that in a way that testing all the symptomatic people, and then contact-tracing, finds it much harder to do."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and some scientists have highlighted concerns that broad population testing can be hugely costly and ineffective.

Hancock said it was important to "stitch" together national and local aspects of test and trace, and he also defended the role of the private sector in the system.

"I'll put on the record ... my thanks for all those working in the private sector contact-tracing because I really dislike it when people try to do them down," he said.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout)