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Testing key to easing lockdown

Test, track and treat must be an essential ingredient coming out of COVID-19 lockdown.  This was acknowledged by the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in his statement to the House of Commons today spelling out a little more detail of the strategy moving forward. 

With more testing, it will be possible to predict at a more localised level in the community where infections will spread and target both community testing and more social interventions on high-risk areas in the future.  This might then prevents further national lockdown in response to any rebound of the virus. 



The Prime Minister rightly refers to the R-value in informing strategy. It represents the rate of infection - or how many people can be infected by another.  At the outset, this was above 3, and anything above one means a dramatic increase in infections and deaths. 

The Prime Minister also, on that basis, is right that there might be a need for differences in approach in different regions of the country, and he acknowledges this in the differences in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Apart from the problems of creating unclear messaging, it is probably right that regional strategy should reflect local R values and not the value UK wide. 

But there are also substantial variations in R (the reproductive ratio) between the English regions.

There are greater risks in some areas than in others. So far, this is not taken into account in the strategy Johnson has announced. 

Thus, R is much higher in the North East of England than in the Midlands. The most disadvantaged communities have higher rates of infection than the more wealthy areas. 

It would better to have a regional strategy in England, given that R is what is informing the strategy, and this is why testing is so critical in being able to react to R, else we only know what is happening in hospitals or care homes.   We need a more sensitive measure of R, and we need to be able to track and trace to push infections back down. 

The Prime Minister has set up a taskforce to ramp up testing, which currently lags well below the target level he set of 200,000 a day by the end of the month.  


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