Contact Tracing – Cutting the Engine of the Pandemic

962 people in Scotland have so far died from Covid-19, the coronavirus pandemic,  in the weekly report issued by the National Register of Scotland – figs correct as of 12th of April 2020.

Scotland is collaborating with the UK Government and the other devolved administrations on a 4 nation strategy – this has differences to the one the World Health Organisation (WHO) is advising countries to follow.

The World Health Organisation, which has just had funding removed by President Trump of the USA, is gathering the latest scientific findings and knowledge  on coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and compiling it in a database. It continues to update this important information for governments across the world to support them in how they respond to Covid19.

Back in January Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, warned countries in Europe of the need to prepare for the Covid-19 pandemic which he said:

“includes being ready at the local and national levels to detect sick people, test samples of those suspected of 2019-nCoV infection, manage patients adequately, maximize infection control, and maintain open communication with the public.”

Today, 16th of April, Europe is at the centre of the disease. More worryingly is that there is a much higher rate of deaths due to Covid19 in Italy, Spain, the UK, Belgium and Switzerland.

Responding to the public health crisis in Europe and using what is now known about Covid 19, last week Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge said:

“It is essential to cut the engine of the pandemic at its source: separate healthy people from suspected and probable cases.

“This requires implementing a comprehensive set of early public health measures that consistently includes case isolation, testing, contact tracing and quarantine. Sustain these measures to delay, slow and stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

And he continued:

” At a minimum, to keep transmission suppressed, we must prioritize maintaining extensive testing, isolation and contact tracing measures and planning these ahead, including for the period when widespread physical distancing measures are slowly and gradually relaxed. This is of fundamental importance.”

Scotland, in following the 4 nation strategy led by the UK Government, is not contact tracing. The public have been exceptional in their restraint by limiting their contact with others. The public are doing their part.

As you can see from the information provided by NRS the numbers in Scotland of those dying from Covid19 continue to rise and although most of these take place in hospital the number dying in our care homes is shocking at almost 25%.

Covid 19 12th April 2020 NRS

This week we still learn of frontline workers not having adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in Scotland  and of some suppliers limiting their sales to England.

The UK, and indeed Scotland, was certainly not prepared to cope with a pandemic.

This led to calls from some politicians, very early on in the report of the virus in Scotland  for contact tracing.

Angus McNeill, SNP MP, who represents the Western Isles, one of the last communities, like Orkney, to have any confirmed cases of Covid-19, has continued to highlight the success of the Faroes in their response to the virus.

In the Faroes 11% of population have been tested. 184 have had Covid19,  0.35% of population and 166 (90%) have recovered with 0 people hospitalized. As of yesterday, 15th of April, there had been no new cases reported for over a week. Angus McNeill has been calling for more testing to be done.

Also now joining in on that call is Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur, LibDem, who has written to  the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon,  and the Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, to ask if contact tracing could be introduced in Orkney.

Special pleading for island communities is interesting but why not for the whole of Scotland?

Scotland’s population is 5.5million. The population of New Zealand is  4.8 million but it appears to be having much more success in  managing the spread and control of Covid19. The first case reported of Covid 19 in New Zealand was 28th of February 2020. The first case reported of Covid 19 in Scotland was 1st of March 2020. New Zealand 9 deaths, Scotland over 100 times that at 962.

New Zealand Covid 19 15 April 2020

Figures from New Zealand Ministry of Health

In New Zealand they carry out contact tracing:

Most cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand have come from overseas. Once a case has been identified, the Ministry of Health and district health boards track down people who may have been exposed to the virus through a process called contact tracing.

Health services use contact tracing to find people who may have been exposed to an infectious disease. There are two types of ‘contacts’ – close contacts and casual contacts. Health services give advice to both of these contact types on what they need to do. New Zealand Ministry of Health

In the UK ,as of the 14th of April, 12,868 people have died according to Government figures of Covid19 – figures do not include  deaths in the community from the virus.

In her statement to the nation on 15th of April, FM Nicola Sturgeon said:

“The point I want to stress as I always do is – none of us are powerless and all of us have some control here. By following the rules, by staying home and by self-isolating when we have symptoms, all of us can help to reduce the number of deaths.”

The public in Scotland are on the whole doing this – they are responsible citizens now into their 4th week – and for some it is even longer , of self isolation.

When will this period of self isolation end  and why is  there no contact tracing being done in Scotland so that it can successfully curb the spread of the virus?

Why could New Zealand do it, why even The Faroes did it, and not Scotland?

The deaths in Scotland (and in the UK) due to Covid-19 are a shocking failure of governments to protect citizens. The lack of contact tracing, against WHO advice, is inexplicable and from the increasing numbers of tragic deaths it is only too evident why it needs to take place.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame



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