United Kingdom

Coronavirus: WHO warns second wave could hit in autumn

The World Health Organisation has warned that a second wave of coronavirus could hit this autumn, with nations urged to develop a successful test, track and isolate programme.

Dr Hans Kluge, WHO's European regional director, stressed yesterday that contact tracing and quarantining people potentially infected with Covid-19 was 'an essential element' of the strategy.  

His comments came a day after UK MPs were told the Government's contact tracing smartphone app - previously heralded as a fundamental pillar of the country's response to the pandemic - could be scrapped. 

Today the UK Government performed a dramatic U-turn over its heavily-delayed coronavirus tracking app, scrapping its own in place of an existing system, the NHSX app, developed by tech giants Apple and Google - which may not be ready until the winter.  

Dr Hans Kluge, European regional director of the World Health Organisation, said contact tracing and quarantining the potentially infected was 'an essential element' of the strategy

Dr Kluge told a Russian-centred WHO briefing on Thursday that it was 'well possible' that the autumn could have an impact on the number of cases, in the same way flu cases peak towards the end of the year.

He said: 'It's well possible that when the autumn starts and we have also the seasonal influenza, there is the possibility of a seasonal effect on the virus - but we're not sure yet - that then we will see a second wave.

'So the lesson is that we have to implement what we know works - at the core of the strategy is to find as early as possible, isolate, test suspected people from Covid, and if needs be treat them without any stigma or discrimination.

'At the same time (governments need) to track and quarantine contacts - contact tracing is an essential element of this strategy.

'But there is no single solution.'

A resident of the Isle of Wight, UK, poses with his smartphone showing the newly released NHS Coronavirus contact tracing app in Ryde on May 8, 2020

The German federal health ministry's Corona-Warn-App software, released on June 16, 2020, in Berlin, Germany

Dr Kluge also said community engagement with lockdown rules was 'crucial' to help block the spread of infections, particularly with summer approaching when people may be more inclined to congregate together.

He added: 'We are not out of the woods. Lockdowns and social distancing have gained us time.

'Where we have opportunity we must grasp it to strengthen our preparedness and readiness - of our emergency services and our routine health system delivery.

'That means hoping for the best but preparing for the worst: a likely resurgence of COVID-19, across countries, through regions, in towns and communities. As the popular saying goes, we count our chicks in the autumn, but this depends on how we act now.'

Dr Kludge warned that 'alarm bells' should be ringing for Europe, as covid-19 is still in an 'active phase' in many countries.

On Wednesday, Lord Bethell, (pictured in parliament) the minister responsible for the Government's smartphone app, told MPs the much anticipated technology was not a priority

He said: 'Several countries continue to face increased incidence, while others are seeing an increase in numbers - such as North Macedonia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Israel.

'In the past month the number of European countries showing significant increases in cumulative incidence has more than tripled, from 6 to 21 countries. 

'Covid-19 is still in an active phase in many countries. It is crucial that we continue to recover and rebuild normal life following lockdown, but it's also really important that authorities fully invest in having an aggressive track, test and trace surveillance system to avoid costly additional lockdowns in the weeks and months ahead should the virus rebound.

'A warning shot has been fired: school re-opening in a few countries have resulted in local 'flares' in the number of cases - we need to remain diligent and lift restrictions with care. I repeat: The risk remains high across ALL our Member States.'  

On Wednesday, Lord Bethell, the minister responsible for the Government's smartphone app, told MPs the much anticipated technology was not a priority - despite previous claims from Health Secretary Matt Hancock that it would be rolled out a month ago.

Lord Bethell told the Science and Technology Committee that a pilot of the app on the Isle of Wight had been successful, but also showed that people prefer human contact to technological approaches.

Speaking of the app, he said: 'We're seeking to get something going before the winter, but it isn't the priority at the moment.'

He added that the Government was not feeling great time pressure over the app, and did not want to 'poison the pool' by rushing something out that is not 'quite right'.

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