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Coronavirus: Scientists concern for public health as Covid surveillance programme scrapped

Dr Hilary Jones explains nine new symptoms of Covid

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In response to the dismantlement of the study, the Royal Statistical Society said public health is at risk.

Professor Christl Donnelly, of the React study, said that as well as removing the surveillance system, the government was also reducing testing capacity.

By doing so Donnelly explained: “You reduce the amount of testing that you’re doing, that reduces capacity and it may take a bit longer to detect these [new variants].

“But the fact that there is still testing going on and that there is systematic sequencing of samples is important. There are lots of variants out there and it’s looking at the pattern that helps both nationally and internationally to identify these variants of concern and make sure that people see what’s coming.”

Of the impact of React 1, Professor Christina Pagel commented: “React-1 has been an incredible study of community infection in England, complementing the ONS [Office for National Statistics] infection survey.

“Because it uses PCR tests, it is also a crucial window into ongoing evolution of the virus which we cannot get from lateral flow tests.

“Stopping funding now seems very unwise just as infection rates are the highest ever recorded and several new sub variants are emerging.”

In its final report, React-1 found over six percent of the population had been infected with the virus between early and late March; the highest figure since records began just under two years ago.

Meanwhile, Professor Sylvia Richards added: “[React-1 had] provided vital insights into the spread of the disease and new variants so that public health decisions could be made quickly.

“We are entering a new phase of the pandemic with cases rising and testing considerably reduced.”

“Dismantling the programme altogether without maintaining a scaled down version of React-1 damages preparedness and puts the public’s health at risk” warned the professor.

The professor warned: “Dismantling the programme altogether without maintaining a scaled down version of React-1 damages preparedness and puts the public’s health at risk.”

As part of this all restrictions have been removed including the legal requirement to self-isolate if positive with the virus.

Furthermore, testing is being reduced with the end of free tests for all those except from healthcare workers.

Cutting Covid costs, including the COVID ZOE study run by King’s College London’s Tim Spector, are all part of cost-cutting initiatives.

All of these decisions have proved controversial with scientists, doctors, and politicians.

Case numbers are currently their highest and the NHS is under increasing stress as it tries to deal with Covid and non-Covid care.

Such is the level of the crisis facing the health service there are fears it could be overwhelmed.

Meanwhile there has been increasing concern as a new Covid variant, known as Omicron XE, that has been identified.

Going forward without the likes of the React-1 study it will be much harder to spot new variants, whether they’re less dangerous or not.

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