U.K. Plans Large-Scale Virus Tracing in Weeks to Tackle Outbreak

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(Bloomberg) --

The U.K. is planning widespread tracing of coronavirus patients and the people they meet as part of its exit strategy from nationwide lockdown, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who warned infection rates are still too high for the program to work.

Hancock told Parliament a National Health Service app to assist with the so-called track and trace of cases is in “beta trials” which are “going well.” The aim is to have a system in place within weeks.

“We are ramping up our testing capacity and our capacity for contact tracing in a matter of weeks, and we will have it ready to make sure that we can use that as and when the incidents of transmission come down,” Hancock told lawmakers on Wednesday. “Test, track and trace is a critical part of keeping the spread of this virus low.”

Ministers have faced criticism since U.K. health authorities abandoned contact tracing on March 12 after cases outstripped testing capacity and officials conceded the pandemic could no longer be contained. Countries including South Korea have been praised for using widespread contract tracing to limit the impact of the virus.

Virus Peak

Hancock said the U.K. is now at the peak of the outbreak, a point that will increase pressure on the government to explain how and when it will relax strict rules on people’s movements in place since March 23.

More testing and contact tracing will be the key, Hancock told lawmakers. “That way we can control this virus with fewer of the very extraordinary social-distancing measures that have been in place,” he said.

The introduction of the program is tied to the rate of transmission coming down from current levels to ensure its effectiveness, rather than timed to coincide with a review of lockdown measures that’s due in just over two weeks’ time, he said.

Officials are also “constantly” analyzing reasons why coronavirus deaths are so much lower in Germany, which has a far more extensive testing program than the U.K., Hancock said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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