Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Tackling covid-19 in the UK

Covid-19: local implementation of tracing and testing programmes could enable some schools to reopen

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 24 March 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m1187
  1. Allyson M Pollock, professor of public health
  1. Faculty of Medical Sciences, The Medical School, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4HH, UK
  1. allyson.pollock{at}

As a public health physician, I am increasingly concerned about the apparent failure to implement fundamental public health measures to tackle the covid-19 outbreak—specifically, community contact tracing, clinical observation, and testing—and about what seems to be one of the knock-on effects of this failure—the blanket closure of schools.

Tracing and clinical observation of contacts, isolation, and quarantine are the classic tools in public health to deal with infectious diseases.1 The World Health Organization reports that these have been painstakingly adopted in China in response to covid-19, with a high percentage of identified close contacts completing medical observation2; and they have been strongly recommended by WHO for other countries.

We lack data in England—contact tracing seems to have been adopted only initially. Modelling conducted by Keeling and colleagues (the authors of one of the papers published by the …

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