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Linda Bauld: UK didn’t learn lessons of Asia’s response to coronavirus

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Linda Bauld, professor of public health at Edinburgh University, says the UK’s governments should have followed in Asia’s footsteps in border control, testing and contact tracing.

Borders in the UK remain open, despite Priti Patel’s attempts to close them. It is almost a year to the day since the first case of Covid-19 was found in the UK.

Professor Bauld said that the UK “could have learned” from some Asian countries’ swift response to the virus.

“What we could have learned was to recognise that what viruses do is, they move between individuals and they spread around the world through travel.

“The closure of borders very quickly in countries like Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea, and even within China, was something.

“I think we really struggled with this in the UK, where we’re such an international hub for travel,” she said.

Linda Bauld
Professor Linda Bauld.

‘We paused our response’

Bauld added that countries in Asia were prepared in terms of PPE stock and had effective test and tracing systems in place early on.

The UK has continually faced concerns about PPE throughout the duration of the pandemic, while there was no fully operational test and tracing system in place until June.

“They (countries in Asia) were ready with PPE and they also knew the essential importance of contact tracing, test, trace, isolate and protect. They already had those systems but they increased them at scale.

“We have a legacy of contact tracing in the UK but we paused our response in March,” she added.

“Once infections get too high, contact tracing isn’t viable and that is what happened in March.

“The strategic decision not to ramp up that. I think that was a fundamental mistake.”

‘My plea to the Scottish Government’

Bauld then pleaded with the Scottish Government to keep the current track and trace system in place. There has been a steady reduction in cases in Scotland while the vaccine continues to get rolled out.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Positive cases in Scotland have dropped from more than 3,000 in late December to fewer than 1,000 per day since Saturday January 23.

“My plea to the Scottish Government, and to governments around the UK, will be as we continue to see a reduction in the incidents and prevalence of the disease, which we are at the moment, that we keep that system in place and we allow it to operate properly.

Covid vaccine in Scotland: Track the rollout progress with these charts

“It’s going to be crucial as we roll out the vaccine because there will still be infection in the community.”

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