Professor Chris Whitty has said that we are now in the delay phase as the prospect of containment being a success is optimistic. However, this goes against the World Health Organization’s advice that the virus can be contained.
We have seen evidence of the virus being contained with new cases in China slowing. Over the last few days China has reported the lowest numbers of confirmed new cases in the country since January 2020, with data from 5th March 2020 indicating that there were 143 new cases in the country over the previous 24 hours.
In their daily media briefing on 5th March 2020 the World Health Organization told counties not to give up on the containment strategy, highlighting that countries must do everything they can to contain COVID-19 and that this approach required all sectors of the government to be involved alongside the input of the community, public sector and private sector.
The delay strategy requires some of the same approaches as the containment phase, such as case finding and isolation of early cases. With extra options such as closing schools, encouraging home working and reducing large gatherings also on the cards.
The aim of delaying the epidemic is to buy time, there has been some speculation that warmer months could mean the virus is less likely to spread. But we do not know if the virus is seasonal, the World Health Organization has said that we will only know if this is a seasonal virus over time, but the fact that the virus has spread in hot climates such as Singapore means that transmission may not reduce when the weather heats up.
The government has highlighted that buying time will allow for the testing of drugs and the development of a vaccine, but we know that it’s likely to be around a year for such a vaccine to be developed.
The worry with this new phase, is that it is confusing for members of the public. We need to send out strong messages to society that this virus must be contained and that everybody has a part to play in this. This is likely to require short-term sacrifices.
We know that the aggressive approach taken in China worked, the World Health Organization have encouraged all countries to follow suit with China’s strategy which included: looking for cases and contacts, social distancing, hand washing, respiratory etiquette and readying systems.
This is not the time to give up and the government must be firm that containment can occur.