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expert reaction to updated travel advice for travellers returning from some countries, including Italy

The UK government has updated its travel advice for British residents returning from some countries, including Italy.

 

Prof Andrew Tatem, Professor within Geography and Environmental Science, University of Southampton, said:

“The advice given for travellers coming from Italy seems appropriate. With this disease, people don’t just contract it then immediately die – instead it is a process where many get mild symptoms and don’t feel the need to report these, some develop serious conditions and report to doctors or are referred to the hospital and a small fraction of cases eventually die. The fact that this process can take days and weeks, combined with the fact that we’re seeing deaths reported in Italy, suggests that the virus may have possibly been spreading for quite a while there before the latest news. It also indicates that there’s been quite a large outbreak, and therefore anyone who has been in the region recently and has any kind of symptoms should certainly call the NHS line and self-isolate to ensure the risks of onward spread are minimised.”

 

Prof Rowland Kao, Sir Timothy O’Shea Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science, University of Edinburgh, said:

“At this stage there is clear evidence of substantial transmission occurring outside of China, and the warning to be prepared for a pandemic is a real concern (while remembering that while cases are rising outside China, the total number of cases in most countries remains low, as does the mortality rate). It is unlikely that we shall be able to completely prevent spread of Covid-19 in the UK. However, it is going to be important to try to slow the rate of spread down. An important consideration is the possibility of seasonal effects, with at least reduced transmission in the summer – which means that there is a very good possibility of substantial benefit if we can slow the virus spread until then. At the very least in summer the absence of seasonal ailments such as flu will make it easier to diagnose cases of Covid-19. Slowing the rate of spread down will also provide more time to develop new vaccines, diagnostic tests, and to better understand the mechanisms of transmission and the characteristics of the disease.”

 

Prof Sheila Bird, Formerly Programme Leader,  MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge, said:

“The latest UK advice about 14-day self-imposed quarantine could be in part a precautionary approach in case there is pre-symptomatic transmission of COVID-19. If this were the case, then it would be a key vulnerability for the public’s health.

“Practical implementation of this advice by employees requires that their employers accept staff-members’ own account of the reasons for their being unable to attend the work-place; or that those who self-quarantine are afforded a means of registering their actions with public health authorities and hence their potential need for COVID-19 testing at the end, if not also the start, of their 14-day quarantine. Registration, as described, would at least give public health authorities a measure of how many persons had adopted the new Italy-related self-quarantine advice and, thereby, an ability to offer COVID-19 testing to a random sample of those who complied with the advice.”

 

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-information-for-the-public

 

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

 

The SMC also produced a Factsheet on COVID-19 which is available here:

https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/smc-novel-coronavirus-factsheet/

 

Declared interests

None received.

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