The one thing that could ‘change the game’ for tackling COVID in Europe, according to WHO

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·2 min read
'Change the game': Dr Michael Ryan. (WHO/YouTube)
'Change the game': Dr Michael Ryan. (WHO/YouTube)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has insisted effective contact tracing is the “game changer” in dealing with the coronavirus.

The WHO’s Dr Michael Ryan suggested many European countries are falling short following the second wave of cases across the continent.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Dr Ryan reiterated contact tracing is the best tool of restricting the virus, in the absence of a vaccine.

“As a public health physician, if I was asked for one thing that I could improve that could change the game… that is making sure that each and every contact of a confirmed case is in quarantine for the appropriate period of time so as to break chains of transmission.

“I do not believe that has occurred systematically anywhere and in particular the countries which are experiencing large increases now.”

It comes after a WHO warning last week that daily COVID-19 deaths in Europe could reach five times their April peak without effective measures after a number of countries reported record numbers of new infections.

Nations across Europe have started reimposing restrictions on people’s lives, including in England, with Boris Johnson launching a three-tier local lockdown system last week.

Dr Ryan, however, was suggesting such measures would be less necessary with effective contact tracing – and compliance of people told to self-isolate.

Watch: More COVID measures hit Europe as cases surge

England has endured particular struggles with contact tracing. The NHS Test and Trace system has just recorded its worst ever week for reaching close contacts of people who tested positive for the virus: just 62.6%.

Last month, new rules were introduced making self-isolating for COVID patients or contacts a legal requirement in England, with fines of up to £10,000 for people who flout them.

However, a government-commissioned study suggested only one in 10 people actually fulfil their full isolation period of 14 days.

It has prompted the government to grant police access to self-isolation data on a “case-by-case basis” in order to enforce the law.

An NHS Test and Trace logo on a member of staff's jacket at a Covid-19 testing centre in Southwark, south London, after a range of new restrictions to combat the rise in coronavirus cases came into place in England. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
Struggling: NHS Test and Trace. (Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)

Read more: Why Jacob Rees-Mogg doesn't want any scrutiny of 'Serco Test and Trace'

Dr Ryan, while calling for more effective contact tracing by governments, also pleaded with people to take responsibility for themselves.

“Let’s be plain and honest here,” he said. “If you are a case, someone who is positive, you should be at home in full isolation or in a clinical facility. If you are a contact of a case, you should be in full quarantine at home without contact with other people.”

Watch: Can you catch COVID twice?

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