Testing – UK Govt target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per day by April 30th

At the moment, the government seems to have no real strategy as far as I can see. They first said they would carry out 10,000 tests a day. Then they set a target of 25,000 a day by the middle of April. But on 2 April, while still struggling to meet that target, Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised 100,000 coronavirus tests would be carried out a day by April 30th .

To date, It has managed more than 52,000 in the 24 hours up to 09:00 on 29 April. The government says it has the capacity to carry out 75,000 tests a day, but not all of this capacity is being used. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51943612

A soldier helps conducting COVID-19 testing for NHS key workers at a testing site in Plymouth

Testing for Covid-19 is a complex business with huge logistical challenges. It is inevitable that the government will not meet today’s target, although this does not really matter. What does matter is that the target enabled the rapid development of a practical National infrastructure to conduct mass testing for the next phase of contact tracing

Testing to meet a target is NOT the same as a testing strategy to bring the pandemic under control by containing and breaking the chain of transmission, as South Korea has proved. They have helpfully produced a handy 90 page manual  “Flattening the curve” to inform other countries of their tried and tested methodology.

This involved the development of advanced  Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) – basically free Apps on individuals smartphones, which played a vital role in supporting early testing and contact tracing. Advanced ICTs were particularly useful in spreading key emergency information on novel virus and help to maintain extensive ‘social distancing’.

I make no apology for reproducing the conclusion of the S Korean Covid-19 manual “Flattening the Curve” in full :

Humanity has usually been at war against each other. But this time, almost every country fight against the same enemy, an invisible micro-pathogen. The success or failure of this fight will naturally be a measure of the overall capacity of a country, and will have great implications for global community and history. We hope this study will be a small but meaningful policy guides for the international community and especially those developing countries by sharing Korea’s experiences and countermeasures against COVID-19 over the past three months. COVID-19 countermeasures taken by the Korean government will not be conclusive nor the Korean case cannot be a universal key for all countries’ fight against COVID-19. With that in mind, we can have following five lessons from the Korean government’s response to COVID-19 using ICT.

First, ICT helps social distancing. Korean government implements number of ICT measures to enhance social distancing. The CBS(cellular broadcasting service) transmits emergency alert text messages on natural or manmade disasters to cell phones through mobile telecom carriers in Korea. It is an effective tool that could help disaster response. Since the coronavirus outbreak, Korean government opened a website to provide information about companies providing solutions for remote working and education and their products. In addition, the government has temporarily permitted doctors to perform telemedicine from the end of February as part of preventive measures to avoid group contagion in vulnerable facilities including medical institutions and nursing homes.

Second, ICT locates COVID-19 with speedy testing. The test-kits for COVID-19 quickly became widely available and played a major role in eliminating uncertainties in the early stages of the viral spread. In Korea, five diagnostic reagent companies have obtained emergency use approval as of now and are producing RT-PCR reagents. Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a significant role in supporting researchers and healthcare professionals in the diagnosis and screening of patients with severe symptoms, as well as developing appropriate responses based on a thorough analysis of the situation on the COVID-19 spread. In addition, famous “Walk-Thru” testing station allows quick collection of samples as subjects walk through the station with minimal contact.

Third, ICT quickly traces COVID-19. The Korean government has utilized a mobile application for self-diagnosis to monitor symptoms of inbound travelers while also providing them prompt medical advice. Korea has also developed the Self-quarantine Safety Application to effectively support the monitoring of those under self-quarantine allowing the users to monitor their conditions and conduct self-diagnosis. It also ensures that the selfquarantine orders are kept by setting off an alarm when a user ventures out from the designated quarantine area. Furthermore, the COVID-19 Epidemiological Investigation Support System was developed to support epidemiological investigations through the application of City Data Hub under the National Strategic Smart City R&D Program.

 Fourth, ICT facilitates COVID-19 treatment. The use of AI is expected to reduce the time required to develop medicine, as AI can learn and make deductions based on the virus and other medical data. One Company, which develops new medicine and relevant platforms through the use of AI, used deep learning algorithms to predict the interaction of drug and protein, and propose candidate medicine for the coronavirus. Another Company and its researchers used pre-trained deep learning-based drug-target interaction model called Molecule Transformer-Drug Target Interaction (MT-DTI) to identify commercially available drugs that could act on viral proteins of SARS-CoV-2. An AI-driven drug discovery start-up using bioinformatics and pharmacogenomics for incurable and rare diseases, has been developing platforms to find candidate substances to treat COVID-19 more efficiently.

Fifth, ICT flattens the curve on COVID-19. Key information such as the accumulated count by region and number of tests performed is summarized and provided as visualization data on the main page of the website. Information on providing overseas travel history, finding COVID-19 screening centers, early-detecting of patients, using epidemiologic surveys and isolating the close contacts of a patient are also provided accordingly. Real-time data of publicly-distributed face masks is provided to people through mobile applications and web services, reducing confusion and inconvenience while raising distribution efficiency. Finally, we should together make best efforts to turn the crisis into opportunity and make the best use of the cutting- edge ICT technologies in forefront of fight against COVID-19. We should also work together by making every information gathered on COVID-19 readily available to all. Any information on fight against COVID-19 is a public good, and it should be provided quickly to everyone in need and in their fight against COVID-19, as they must act and response most quick and swift manner. In this pandemic we are all connected, any wisdom and experience must be also shared quickly and fairly.

Hopefully the government  is working through this manual, or using it as a guide to develop their own. I have no idea if they are, but the piecemeal announcements over the last week or so, such as the ramping up of testing, the contact tracing programme, and the development of an NHS App lead me to assume that they are using the S Korean manual as a blueprint. Full source document :

http://www.undp.org/content/seoul_policy_center/en/home/presscenter/articles/2019/flattening-the-curve-on-covid-19.html

Update 2nd May – Target achieved …..sort of.

The government changed the way it counts the number of covid-19 tests in order to hit its target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April, HSJ can reveal.

The Department of Health and Social Care is now including tests that have been posted or delivered in its figures. These tests are counted before the recipient has provided and returned their sample to a laboratory.

Speaking at today’s press conference, health secretary Matt Hancock said the government had reached its target yesterday after carrying out more than 122,347 tests on 30 April. However, up to 40,000 of these ’tests’ constitute the dispatch of kits to individuals at home, or to hospitals or other healthcare settings. 

Source article – https://www.hsj.co.uk/quality-and-performance/revealed-how-government-changed-the-rules-to-hit-100000-tests-target/7027544.article

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