Dr David Nabarro, the global health body’s special envoy on Covid-19, cautioned on Tuesday that countries will see “very bad surges occurring” unless adequate testing and tracing programmes are rolled out.
“This virus is capable of surging back really quickly and is actually doing so in most countries where there’s been success at getting it under control and, as it surges back, the way you stop outbreaks developing is through having well-functioning contact tracing linked to testing, with isolation of people who’ve got symptoms or who’ve been in contact,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“If we can do that, and do it well, then the surges are kept really small, they’re dealt with quickly and life can go on.
“If, on the other hand, this testing and tracing and isolation just is not done properly, then you get very bad surges occurring and this will lead to economic challenges.”
Dr Nabarro’s comment came after the number of coronavirus cases recorded worldwide passed the 18-million mark this week.
The virus has now killed nearly 700,000 people since it emerged in Wuhan, a city in China‘s Hubei province, at the end of last year.
Fresh clusters have recently been reported in countries that had previously brought their outbreaks under control, such as Australia, forcing governments to reimpose lockdown measures despite worries over the economic fallout of such measures.
Dr Nabarro said he was now “encouraging … joint action by everybody to stop further spikes and surges from actually hobbling the reopening of society and the economy, which is so important at this time”.
“It’s a massive ask, but there is no alternative … this virus is not going away, this virus is really dangerous, this virus doesn’t get bored,” he added.
“It really relishes things if we get bored because then it can cause more trouble.
“This virus only has one purpose and that is to multiply and multiply and multiply, and it’s doing so all over the world.”
Dr Nabarro’s warnings also came amid heightened concern the UK itself may face a second wave of coronavirus if its current testing and contact tracing system is not improved by the time schools reopen in September .
A new modelling study has implied that the NHS Test and Trace programme needs to be scaled up in order for the planned return to classrooms not to result in a second wave of Covid-19 this year.
The modelling study – which simulates various scenarios – examined the possible implications of schools reopening in the UK coupled with broader reopening of society, such as more parents returning to the workplace and increased socialising within the community.
The researchers from UCL and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that “with increased levels of testing… and effective contact tracing and isolation, an epidemic rebound might be prevented”.
But in a worst-case scenario, a second wave could be 2.3 times higher than the first, according to the study published in The Lancet Child And Adolescent Health.
The authors said that without appropriate levels of testing and contact tracing, reopening of schools together with gradual relaxing of the lockdown measures are “likely to induce a second wave that would peak in December 2020 if schools open full-time in September”.