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Covid-19 cannot be eradicated but we can try to eliminate it – expert says

REUTERS/Juan Medina

By Jess Glass, PA

Coronavirus cannot be eradicated and will be with us for “a long time” but efforts can be made to “eliminate” it, an expert has said.

Professor Anthony Costello, of University College London’s Institute for Global Health, appeared at an event as part of the People’s Covid Inquiry, a group of campaigners calling for an immediate inquiry into the pandemic.

Prof Costello, a member of Independent Sage and former director at the World Health Organisation, was asked questions about the Government’s public health approach on Wednesday evening.

He said: “You cannot eradicate a virus, we’ve been absolutely clear about that from day one, a virus like this is going to be with us for a long time, but you can try to eliminate it.

“By that, we mean that you’re going to use public health measures and population immunity produced either by a vaccine or by natural infection which will eventually suppress community transmission.”

He continued: “That doesn’t mean that you’re always going to be successful, there will be outbreaks as there have been in many of the Asian states.”

“Suppression has worked in all the countries that have tried it or attempted it, we never did that,” the academic later added.

Prof Costello later stressed the need for independent public health experts and integration of primary care and services such as NHS 111.

A study released earlier this month suggested that symptom checkers for Covid-19 may have guided people to stay at home when they needed to seek medical help.

According to the research by academics from the Gibraltar Health Authority, if the NHS 111 Covid-19 symptom checker was used as a “sole initial point of healthcare contact” it could lead to people delaying in seeking care, which could increase the risk of disease or death.

However, NHS Digital said the study was “based on an early version of the tool”.

Prof Costello said problems arose due to a lack of integration between primary care and NHS 111, testing and tracing.

He said: “111 was the direct result of them ignoring and bypassing primary care, if they had built testing into the primary care system – we’ve got the best primary care system in the world actually.

“We have everybody on the books, we have everybody’s data.

“Look at how the NHS primary care system has responded to vaccination, it’s been magnificent, it’s done its job in spades.

“But actually, if you look at initially setting up separate testing, separate tracing and a 111 system which didn’t have data linked into primary care, meant that people were being told they had a potentially fatal disease and a GP was not being told and they were not being linked together.

“And if we’d had contract tracers and volunteer medical staff to help out with primary care networks, we could have set up a system that would have been much more comprehensive in locking this down and we knew about this at the end of January.”

NHS figures showed that in mid-March 2020, NHS 111 online was used more than 950,000 times a day, a rate 95 times higher than it normally would be.

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