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Large-scale population testing needed to prevent a second COVID-19 wave

A modelling study has suggested that if the UK is to avoid a second COVID-19 wave, there should be large-scale and population-wide testing of symptomatic individuals and effective tracing of their contacts who, if diagnosed should isolate.

The study, by a team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, involved the development of a mathematic model which described an individual’s contact networks, stratified into household, school, workplace and community layers. The model looked at varies scenarios based on two schools reopening either full-time or on a part-time rota and the extent of contact tracing with varying levels of testing.

The results suggested that with increased testing of symptomatic people and effective contact tracing and isolation, it is unlikely that there would be a second wave. Without these measures, reopening of schools and gradual relaxing of the lockdown measures, would lead to a second wave which would peak in December 2020 or February 2021 if the schools adopted a part-time rota system. The model also predicted that varying the rate of infectivity of children from 100 to 50% of that of older adults, a comprehensive test-trace-isolate system would be required to avoid a second wave.

The authors noted that it is currently unclear whether the test-trace-isolate system will achieve sufficient coverage and suggest that their approach would be an alternative to intermittent lockdown measures such as school closures.

Panovska-Griffiths J et al. Determining the optimal strategy for reopening schools, the impact of test and trace interventions, and the risk of occurrence of a second COVID-19 epidemic wave in the UK: a modelling study. Lancet Child Adolesc Health 2020; 3 Aug.