Coronavirus: "Mass testing will drag us out of lockdown" says health expert

31 March 2020, 12:00

By Seán Hickey

This health expert told James O'Brien that the UK's slow start at testing will keep us in lockdown for longer than we hope.

Anthony Costello is at the UCL institute for global health, and a former director at the World Health Organisation. He joined James O'Brien to speak about the UK's reaction to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Costello told James that the issue with the UK's reaction of only testing health workers and people that are being treated for alleged coronavirus is that the government is then assuming "we're all in the same epidemic".

The global health chief at UCL was making the point that where he is in Yorkshire is relatively untouched by coronavirus and places like London are "red zones" of the virus. To him, he doesn't see how the strategy as it stands can quickly fix and resolve the crisis.

"What we're trying to do is suppress transmission as quickly as possible and get the economy going again" Dr. Costello said. Began to compare the reaction in other countries and showed them to be the ideal responses.

"Mass testing is the best way to go" Dr. Costello argued. When using the examples of Korea and Germany who have tested in droves, he revealed to James that mass testing, especially in Korea, has shown for the best response to the virus to date.

The former WHO chief told James that in Korea the people use an app to test, the person then sends in symptoms to a doctor and their geolocation is used to ensure people send in their locations to ensure they're remaining in quarantine if they are positive.

Former WHO boss: "Mass testing will drag us out of lockdown"
Former WHO boss: "Mass testing will drag us out of lockdown". Picture: PA

On the question of his earlier statement that his area is relatively untouched by Covid-19, he pointed out that this is only the line because he has no idea how many people in the community have the virus, precisely because of a lack of testing. He criticised the statistic that 50 local authorities in the UK have fewer than 10 cases.

"Clearly it's much more because we're not doing the testing."

Dr. Costello's recommendation was that we should "have a system that once you ramp it up, you can control loosening up lockdown" similar to the system in Korea.

Speaking about the current strategy of prevention and isolation, he pointed out that "if we've got the virus transmission right down, we know we can keep this locked down", although Dr. Costello added that there is little room to ease out of lockdown because of the fashion in which we went into lockdown.

Summarising the situation in the UK, Dr. Costello warned that if the UK doesn't start a mass testing effort that we will have to remain in lockdown, simply because we don't know who has the virus, who had it and who is immune.