Authorities in the small community of Vò, near Venice, took a no-nonsense approach to the virus shortly after it broke out in the region, rolling out large scale testing. While leaders in the UK and the Netherlands have leaned towards pursuing “herd immunity”, medics in Vò took a different approach. All 3,300 inhabitants were continuously tested for Covid-19 even if they were not displaying symptoms.
Anyone who had a positive test was ordered to self-isolate to prevent the viral disease spreading.
The results were phenomenal, as health authorities reported the infection rate in the town at the heart of the country’s outbreak had fallen from 3 percent to 0.3 percent in the space of 10 days.
Andrea Crisanti, an infections expert at Imperial College London, is part of the team conducting the project while he is on sabbatical at the University of Padua.
Speaking of the success rate of the experiment, he called on countries across Europe and the wider world to copy the policy being trialled in Vò to bring the spread of coronavirus to a halt.
Prof Crisanti told the Financial Times: “In the UK, there are a whole lot of infections that are completely ignored.
“We were able to contain the outbreak here because we identified and eliminated the ‘submerged’ infections and isolated them.
“That is what makes the difference.”
The first round of testing which showed 3 percent of the town had coronavirus was conducted at the end of February.
Interestingly though, half of those who tested positive did not show any symptoms.
All those diagnosed were cut off from having social contact and the second round of tests a week-and-a-half later showed only 0.3 percent of Vò’s residents were infected.
Rates of Covid-19 were kept down by sending six people into isolation after they tested positive in the second round, despite showing no signs of the virus.
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged countries to focus heavily on testing individuals for the virus as a means of stopping it from spreading.
WHO bosses want to see programs rolled out similar to that in Vò which include repeat testing for everyone regardless of whether they are showing symptoms.
This approach would lead to the isolation of asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19 who would otherwise not have known they are infected and possibly spread the sickness to others.
The WHO this week pointed to South Korea and Taiwan as examples of how stringent testing programs can have a huge effect on the overall number of cases.
Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday: “Our key message is: test, test, test.”
The results of the experiment come as a paper produced by the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team, which is one of several groups advising the Government, showed how the UK had no choice but to change tactics in the face of a growing coronavirus crisis.
Slowing down the spread of the virus without more serious social measures – as were imposed on Monday – could have led to around 250,000 deaths in the UK and a health system so overwhelmed it could not cope, it said.
It warned that “surge limits” for both general ward and intensive care beds would be exceeded by at least eight-fold.
“In addition, even if all patients were able to be treated, we predict there would still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in GB (Great Britain), and 1.1-1.2 million in the US,” it said.
The paper looked specifically at scenarios in the UK and the US, and concluded that suppression was the only answer.
It said mitigation policies (combining home isolation of suspected cases, home quarantine of those living in the same household as suspected cases, and social distancing of the elderly and others at most risk of severe disease) “might reduce peak healthcare demand by two-thirds and deaths by half”.
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