Italian town’s programme drove new cases down to zero – but also revealed worrying information about how virus is spread that UK medics say mean that the government is putting them at risk and forcing them to transmit infection to patients
Medics speaking on condition of anonymity have told the SKWAWKBOX that a study of the epicentre of the Italian coronavirus outbreak shows that Boris Johnson’s failures are forcing them to pass on the disease to NHS patients whose existing illnesses make them more likely to suffer lethal complications – and to fuel the spread of the virus among the UK population.
Johnson’s government is still ignoring World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance to ‘test, test, test’ all citizens for the virus – and health specialists believe that this, combined with the ongoing lack of suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS staff is forcing doctors, nurses and other NHS staff to infect patients as they care for them.
Vò and asymptomatic transmission
The Italian town of Vò near Venice saw the first coronavirus death in Italy and the rapid spread of the virus among the population. But the town recently cut the rate of new infections to zero by implementing a programme of repeated testing of every person in the town and isolating any people found to be infected, along with their close contacts.
But a study of the exercise – which was implemented by Sergio Romagnani, former professor of Clinical Immunology and Clinical Medicine at the University of Florence – and the results of the testing revealed a shocking statistic, one that has not been emphasised by the UK press or news broadcasters:
At any given moment, half to three quarters of the people infected and transmitting the virus were showing no symptoms.
This meant that the town was only able to reduce the spread of the disease because it was testing everyone, whether they showed symptoms or not.
No tests, no tests, no tests
In spite of the WHO call for every government to ‘test, test, test‘, the UK has restricted testing to those admitted to hospital for emergency treatment for coronavirus symptoms.
Not even those who come in with even quite severe symptoms – only those admitted, as a video released by the worried mother of a nine-year-old sufferer typified.
On top of this – and in spite of the claim at Johnson’s press conference last week that NHS PPE supplies are ‘perfectly adequate’ – the government is still not making suitable PPE available to NHS staff on the front line. Staff who will be treating people every day either likely to be infected, or infected but showing no symptoms and in hospital for other issues.
NHS critical care doctor and Doctors’ Association chair Dr Rinesh Parmar spoke out this morning on the BBC about the ongoing lack of suitable equipment:
An intolerable situation
As Dr Parmar noted, the lack of PPE is putting both NHS staff and patients at risk. But other medics point out that the results of the Italian study show that the fact that most people passing on the disease have no symptoms.
And that the government’s continued failure to test staff or provide suitable PPE is therefore creating a lethal cocktail in which staff are becoming infected – and then passing on the disease to patients they are treating or moving.
Many of them already ill and therefore most vulnerable to the lethal complications of the virus.
One doctor told the SKWAWKBOX:
“First do no harm” is the fundamental principle of being a doctor – and yet the government is putting us in a position where we are likely in many cases to be doing more harm than good.
This isn’t just about the people who come in showing coronavirus symptoms. Any patient coming in, for example to A&E, could be infected and not know it – and pass it onto the staff they interact with. Or the doctor or nurse treating them could have it and pass it onto patients.
It’s an absolute nightmare and the government is showing little or no sign of doing anything meaningful about it.
Another medic, who had studied and made notes on Romagnoni’s report of the Vò testing campaign, said the UK’s tactic of testing only admitted sufferers was a complete misdirection of resources:
The study showed that 50 to 75% of those infected are asymptomatic, but they are a formidable source of contagion, being largely but not exclusively of a younger age group than those with symptoms.
Within this community isolation of all the infected persons led to a substantial fall in the infection rate within 7-10 days. This shows that “massive action surveillance” is required, with the aim of finding and isolating all infected persons.
But it is unnecessary to swab symptomatic patients, since they should automatically be isolated, and treated as required.”
What [testing] capacity the UK has should be being used to make sure that front-line staff who have to deal with the infirm and elderly have regular tests so that they can know as far as possible that they are not spreading the disease to vulnerable groups.
The current UK strategy is completely at odds with this, whilst posing as based on “scientific” advice. Basically the government is deceiving the public by not admitting that their failing strategy that it is adopting, far from being the result of expert advice, is due to its own ill-preparedness.
As a result, the NHS will be overwhelmed with cases needing respiratory support, a significant percentage of whom will have acquired the infection from health or social care staff.
The evidence from Vò and the gross negligence of the Johnson government to prepare for the pandemic mean that the doctors, nurses, paramedics, care workers and others looking after the sick, disabled elderly, will be spreading the disease to those they are caring for.
Johnson’s complacency and incompetence mean that the people caring for those most at risk of serious pneumonia and death are at some point likely to be infecting them.
Regular testing of all such workers is the only way to protect patients and staff – so why are Johnson and Hancock continuing to ignore the evidence?
Why were they unprepared – and why are they still not taking steps to put it right?
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