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Few in the UK seem to realize that our policy for controlling COVID-19 differs radically from the WHO recommendations. The WHO say we need to test all suspected cases, quarantine them, trace all close contacts and ask them to self isolate. The UK was doing that until the 12th March when they decided to stop testing for mild cases.

The director general gave a really good speech on Friday, and I am sharing it here, to help people have more courage in what are going to be difficult times.

Up until March 20th, the WHO said this is the first pandemic we can stop.

Now the WHO say that Wuhan has its first day with no cases which shows the world that even the most severe situation can be turned around.

They are particularly concerned about the effects if it reaches vulnerable populations of malnourished children and people with AIDS which is endemic in parts of sub Saharan Africa.

He says however none of this is inevitable. This is the first pandemic in history where we have the power to change the way it goes.

Singapore is controlling its outbreak with case finding and contact tracing. Any other country can do the same. Singapore is a particularly clear case. They test everyone for COVID-19 if they go to a doctor or clinic for treatment with symptoms of a respiratory disease. For instance if you are living in Singapore, and get a cough or fever, and go to see your doctor - he or she will take a swab which is automatically tested for COVID-19. That's in a country of over 5 million, as large as Scotland.

skip to: Contact tracing in Singapore

Everyone in the UK - please share this widely, this and other posts that explain what is happening in the UK. We are no longer trying to contain COVID-19 in the UK, only to slow down its spread. Also, we no longer try to keep track of who in our society has the virus, as people with mild symptoms are not tested to see if they have COVID-19. This would be good advice for influenza which is a very different disease. Sadly the Netherlands have also joined us in declaring a similar policy.

Summary (of WHO press briefing on 16th March): We must test every suspected case for COVID-19. We must immediately isolate all cases, even the mild ones. Isolation needs to continue through to 14 days after the symptoms cease to make sure the patients are no longer infectious. The mild cases are best treated in hospitals but when there aren’t the beds for them, they can be treated in stadiums, or gyms, or treated at home. If they are isolated at home, the caregivers must know how to protect themselves or they risk infecting others in the same household.

I often get asked - “How long is this COVID19 pandemic going to last?”. The answer, according to the WHO, is that it is up to us. We can stop this. The only question is whether we will. Most countries in the world are acting vigorously to stop it with rigorous case finding, contact tracing and isolation. But the UK and, sadly, Netherlands have decided to follow another direction.

This can only be stopped if all countries are in it together, and for just one country to depart from this strategy means the virus will continue in that country and reinfect the rest of the world, at least until we have a vaccine, a year to eighteen months from now.