Coronavirus ‘can be eradicated from UK by Christmas’, scientist claims

Coronavirus it could be eradicated from the UK at Christmas, says one of the country's leading microbiologists.

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Professor Hugh Pennington, professor emeritus of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, said that if mass testing and contact tracking increase, Britain could be free of Covid-19 by the end of the year.

But the scholar has criticized the government's efforts so far to combat the virus.

"I would give the UK and Scottish governments five to ten for the way they handled it. That big mistake occurred on March 12, when they decided that the policy was just to flatten the curve and give up mass testing and tracking contacts, "he said.

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"The policy was adopted, it seems to me, for lack of testing capacity and I was wrong. I think it was a bad policy judgment. They could have used university labs, more NHS labs and others much earlier."



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Professor of microbiology Hugh Pennington, of Cardiff, for the investigation, which he is leading, for the death of Mason Jones, who contracted E. coli strain 0157 in what is believed to be the second largest outbreak of E. coli in the UK.

"By the time we pass the peak, but not in a significantly downward trend, the virus is on a kind of plateau just below the peak. There is a lot of that at the moment and we need to decrease it ten fold.

"If we do a lot more testing and tracking of contacts by Christmas, we can eradicate it in the UK. It happened in China, South Korea and New Zealand that seem to have gotten there too."

"We can reach zero – or almost zero – at Christmas. If China can, we can. The only problems would be people with the virus arriving at airports and ports."

Thermal imaging cameras should be used at Heathrow to check for passengers coronavirus.

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A person using the C-19 Covid Symptom Tracker app on a cell phone, while the UK remains blocked to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. Photo date: Monday, April 27, 2020.

The cameras will be used as part of an airport test, which also seeks to introduce non-contact security measures and UV sanitation to ensure travelers are safe.

Trial data and whether the measures are medically effective will be shared with the government and industry and could lead to the creation of a Common International Standard for health screening.

Pennington said, "I am skeptical that this will work well enough, because you will miss half of the people infected because of the period (incubation) of the virus, when people may not be showing symptoms."

And he added: "We also can't wait for a vaccine. We don't know if we will get a successful vaccine and whoever says he is wrong.

"We are still a long way from controlling this (covid-19). I don't think we are close."

Professor Pennington also said that experts from the leading Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which is advising the UK government, have mainly experience with influenza and are very focused on how this infection behaves.


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Coronavirus prevention

"This is not the flu. The more you look at this virus, the more the differences appear," he said.

"I think it is inevitable to conclude that the flu was used a lot in planning the pandemic … about how the flu behaves. For example, I am not aware of any ethnic or obesity risk with the flu, as with Covid -19. "

Pennington said that primary schools may be among the first things to ease restrictions.

"Young children do not seem to be good incubators and a source of transmission of the virus. In Iceland, they found no case under the age of nine," he said.

"The way out of this is increased testing and aggressive contact tracking. The problem with this virus is that many cases are asymptomatic.

"It is still compared to the flu, but not the flu – it is a coronavirus like SARS, which has disappeared, and my hope is that it behaves the same way."

A new contact tracking application to manage the coronavirus outbreak will be tested on the Isle of Wight this week.

"The app can help, but it is not the answer," said Pennington.

"It may be more useful in some parts of the country than in others. For example, there are particular concerns about privacy in Northern Ireland and acceptance of the application may not be high enough."

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