Intended for healthcare professionals


Preventing a covid-19 pandemic

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 28 February 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m810

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  1. John Watkins, consultant epidemiologist
  1. Public Health Wales, Cardiff, UK
  1. John.Watkins{at}

We need to think beyond containment

In the aftermath of the 2009 H1N1 global threat, the Department of Health’s pandemic preparedness planning team paid particular attention to the value, or otherwise, of containment as a strategy to prevent spread. In 2009 considerable time and effort were spent on a catch, isolate, and treat approach in the early stages of the emerging pandemic, and public health teams were expending considerable energy with, as it turned out, little effect. The resulting UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 20111 emphasised the need to maintain the continuity of essential services and continue everyday activities as far as possible.

Catch and isolate

In a recent speech in the House of Commons, Matt Hancock, the UK secretary of state for health and social care, highlighted the mainstay of the government’s approach, as set out in the plan: contain, delay, research, and mitigate.2 In relation to influenza, the plan sees these phases as detection, assessment, treatment, escalation, and recovery, and during the assessment phase it emphasises the need to actively find, test, isolate, and treat cases—our current approach to covid-19. Unlike for influenza, …

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