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'It's not rocket science but it's hard work': Christian medic sceptical track and trace system will be ready by June

by Heather Preston

A Christian medic says a track and trace system is likely the most effective way of preventing a second wave of coronavirus cases in England but warns it will not be simple to implement.

At Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday Boris Johnson pledged to introduce a "world-beating" contact tracing system from June, but the plans have faced scrutiny form the NHS Confederation - which represents the UK's health and care bosses - which stressed this must be stepped-up before the lockdown is eased.

Contact tracing identifies those who may have come into contact with an infected person - either through an app or by phone and email - so they can avoid potentially passing the disease on to others.

Steve Fouch from the Christian Medical Fellowship told Premier why the timing of this system is so crucial.

"If we don't use a track and trace system then the danger could be that we see everything spring back to the same sort of levels that we were in early April or possibly even worse. And we could be going back into the same sort of lockdown again within a few weeks," he said.

Fouch explains that the progress made within the healthcare system could quickly be reversed, as emergency hospitals such as the London Nightingale, which has stood down due to a decline in cases, would need to reopen. The reintroduction of routine appointments would also be interrupted as staff would need to be redeployed to help the severely ill.

The tracking app being trialled on the Isle of Wight as part of the Government's tracing plans has run into a number of technical issues that security researchers have warned could pose risks to users' privacy. Security minister James Brokenshire has made assurances that despite this the track and trace plan will not be delayed.

Fouch says the tracing approach is certainly the right "way to go" but questions whether the deadline is realistic.

"Contact tracing is probably the most effective way of controlling the virus. If you look at countries like Hong Kong or Taiwan or South Korea - this is the approach they have taken and they have had far lower rates of infection and deaths than we have had here in the UK.

"The jury is out amongst a lot of the experts on whether we can get this up and working by the first of June. I think we may have something in place. 

"There's a lot of different bits of this puzzle to put together. It's not just about the number of people that can do the tracing. It's all the other elements - the testing, the app, the communication, the isolation and getting people into treatment - that all has to be working.

"It's not rocket science, but it is hard work, especially when you've got a large number of infected people in the country. I suspect we will have quite a few weeks of it not quite working properly," he said.

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