Researchers who helped lead the country’s initial response to Covid said a backup testing capacity must be established to help the UK better cope with the next pandemic.
In a report published in The BMJ, scientists at the University of Cambridge said a “human bottleneck”, due to historic cuts in public health funding, has delayed the expansion of Covid testing in the UK in the early stages of the response. to the coronavirus pandemic.
They argue that a system of reserve lab scientists must be established now to provide a scaling-up capability that will help the country respond faster – and more effectively – to future infectious disease outbreaks.
“Because Covid-19 testing has not been scaled up fast enough, we have not been able to detect all cases quickly enough to try to stop the spread of the disease,” said Jordan Skitral, the report’s lead author.
It was frustrating to hear promises from politicians to increase Covid-19 testing capacity over and over again during the early phase of the pandemic. Scaling up the work was very difficult: a lot of experience is needed for the tests to succeed in the early stages of dealing with new pathogens.”
As a physician at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, Skittrall halted his usual work to help interpret Covid-19 lab test results in early 2020 and ensure the correct clinical responses were being made.
“In early 2020, we were working late into the night, with very few people processing tests for the whole country,” Sketral said.
“The speed with which people had to work and the difficulty of trying to scale up the process in a crowded hospital lab made me realize there was a real human bottleneck. We needed more people to process the tests.”
In the Cambridge University report, researchers recommended recruiting a relatively small number of highly qualified scientists, who would be paid up front, to help in the early stages of an emergency, raising the risk of another pandemic like Covid-19. always present.
The scientists considered various options to provide scientific capability to the outbreak and concluded that the best scenario would be a mix of highly skilled reservists and volunteers who could be called up when needed and trained quickly.
“There is a limit to when the emergence of an infectious disease is a random process, but a pandemic like Covid-19 is guaranteed to happen again at some point,” Skitral said.
“In the UK we are in a unique position to have the right scientific skills to respond to the next major outbreak. But we need to make sure these people are ready so they can start working when something happens.”
The report suggests creating a large pool of volunteers who lack specialized skills but can be trained quickly in an emergency and paid only when needed.
And the scientists add that those working in sectors of the economy likely to close during the pandemic – such as entertainment and hospitality – would be ideal candidates for voluntary confinement.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 200 million PCR tests have been performed for Covid.
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