Mass testing is the only way to stop the virus – it's long overdue | Anthony Costello

The 15-minute coronavirus tests may provide a semblance of normality as UK regions track the spread of coronavirus

• Anthony Costello is a former director of maternal and child health at the World Health Organization

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has emphasised the crucial importance of testing. Speed is of the essence, and three things are crucial: tracking down cases with symptoms; identifying their household cluster and tracing people they’ve contacted; and quarantining them until they are no longer infectious. Testing is the basis of public health detective work to shut down an epidemic. “You can’t fight a virus if you don’t know where it is,” said the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently. “Find, isolate, test and treat every case, to break the chains of transmission. Every case we find and treat limits the expansion of the disease.”

Physical distancing is another strategy, but it’s less effective than testing. In the early stages of an epidemic, when clusters are few and far between, one needs a huge population distancing effort to stop their spread. At that point, most people won’t grasp the scale of the threat and will resist restrictive orders. So testing, contact tracing and quarantining people with symptoms is crucial. As the epidemic becomes rampant, as in London, the policy must switch to intensive testing to protect health workers.

Continue reading...