Paris (AFP) – “Test, test, test”. The World Health Organisation’s prescription for success in wrestling the new coronavirus pandemic under control may seem simple. So why are so few countries able to follow it?
While nations like South Korea have been praised for their decisive efforts to control the spread of the virus with mass screening, experts say many other countries have been unable to emulate their approach.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged this on Monday, saying that the organisation recognised that “some countries are struggling with the capacity to carry out these offensive measures”.
But his message remains the same: “To win, we need to attack the virus with aggressive and targeted tactics — testing every suspected case, isolating and caring for every confirmed case, and tracing and quarantining every close contact.”
Existing tests, called RT-PCR, are designed to detect the virus in respiratory specimens from nasal or oral swabs, based on genetic analysis.
The results can be ready within hours.
But testing levels have diverged widely across the world.
“It all depends on the level of development of the countries,” Antoine Flahault, a specialist in public health and epidemiology at the University of Geneva, told AFP.
South Korea at one point was the country hardest-hit by the virus outside China.
It responded with a massive screening campaign, carrying out around 300,000 tests.
Authorities quarantined infected people and combined that with an ambitious tracing programme that tracked down people they had been in contact with using video surveillance, bank card usage and via smartphone.
As a result of these efforts, new cases have fallen below 100 a day.
This aggressive testing strategy has also paid off in Singapore, although the city-state this week announced a month-long shutdown of bars and banned mass gatherings.
Both countries have largely avoided the large-scale lockdown measures currently in place in many other countries, with related concerns over economic and social consequences.