But whether the true infection toll is “double or triple that number” remained to be seen, said Dr William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University in the US state of Tennessee. Dr Schaffner, who is former president of America’s National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, also called on the British government to start testing more widely for COVID-19. He said: “On the basis of what we’ve learned about this virus I think that 85 is the tip of the iceberg.
“There are more cases – whether it’s double or triple that number I don’t know.
“And restricting testing – doing it in a very controlled fashion – is a phase one response.
“We and other countries are now testing more widely and the product of that testing is to find more cases.
“I think you have to test more widely, but you don’t have to test everyone who’s got a cough.
“I would put in my priority list, first of all, people who have come into the country from any place internationally.
“Then [I would test] anyone who’s had contact with them.
“And then thirdly – because we’re interested in the most severe cases, because they need treatment – I would emphasise older and frail people, and people with underlying illnesses, such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and the like.”
Dr Schaffner, who has also worked for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), which is leading America’s response to the virus, said people might start avoiding social contact in towns with even one confirmed case.
“There are a lot of conversations about that in the US and they’re focused principally on large gatherings, either recreational or professional meetings,” he said.
“[People are asking] ‘do they have to take place? Can they take place, rather than face-to-face, over the telephone?’
“There is some beginning of social distancing, not going to bars and some people saying ‘well, we’ll worship at home rather than attending the congregation this weekend.’ That sort of thing.
“It’s focused mostly on those communities where we currently have defined cases.”
He continued: “Even if there’s one case, there’s likely to be more, and that might well be a community where people would become a little more reluctant to go to places where they’ll be in a prolonged face-to-face meeting with others.
“But I would trust in that community that the public health authorities are now testing all of that individual’s contacts.”
At present, Public Health England is only testing individuals who have returned from affected countries and are showing symptoms of the virus.
Individuals who they have been in contact with infected persons are not tested at present unless they’re showing symptoms, but are instead given advice and information.
As of today, 16,659 people have been tested for COVID-19 in the UK.
The World Health Organisation says the outbreak is a public health emergency of international concern.
UK Chief Medical Officers have raised its risk to the UK from low to moderate.
Published at Wed, 04 Mar 2020 16:23:00 +0000