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WHO head: Claim that COVID-19 contact tracing is hard is ‘lame excuse’

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  • The director-general of the World Health Organization said countries who claim that contact tracing is too difficult to implement properly are offering a “lame excuse,” the Associated Press reported
  • The WHO has long recommended contact tracing as a key aspect of halting the spread of the coronavirus.
  • His comments are likely aimed at countries like the US and the UK, which have both struggled to implement comprehensive programmes.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has branded the difficulties cited by some countries in setting up contact tracing efforts in the coronavirus pandemic “a lame excuse,” according to The Associated Press (AP).

At a media briefing Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated the importance of contact-tracing schemes, or the process of identifying people exposed to a virus. The WHO has previously said that contact tracing can “break the chains of transmission” of infectious diseases.

“Trust me, no excuse for contact tracing; if any country is saying contact tracing is difficult, it is a lame excuse,” he said.

The comments were likely aimed at countries like the US and the UK, both of which have failed to reach their populations with comprehensive contact-tracing schemes in the pandemic. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in May the country would have a “world-beating” scheme, but the training of contact tracers ran into early problems, and the app developed for the purpose was ultimately shelved in favour of a model based on Apple and Google technology.

Health officials have since admitted that a quarter of UK contacts of people testing positive for the coronavirus were still not being reached, according to The Guardian.

NHS contact tracing app postcode

An early version of the contact-tracing app the UK developed.

NHSX


The US has also struggled with the challenge. In April, MIT Technology Review estimated that only seven states had plans to implement an effective program.

And by late June, the US had still not spent almost $14 billion in funds, approved in April, for testing and contact tracing.

In urging countries to get on top of the issue, Tedros referred to the determination of WHO emergencies director Dr. Michael Ryan, who previously tackled the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the AP.

In the light of this, he said, well-resourced countries have no excuse.

“If contact tracing helps you to win the fight, you do it, even [when] risking your life,” he said Monday.

It was not the first time the WHO chief has alluded to a need for grit and determination in combatting the coronavirus.

In a visibly emotional address in April, Tedros warned those who had “an easy ride in life” not to politicize the pandemic. 

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