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The mayor of London has warned how “complacency” over falling coronavirus infection rates in the UK capital could lead to a second spike of the virus.
During Wednesday’s Downing Street press conference, the government confirmed that cases in London were continuing to decline and that the R rate was thought to be lower in the capital than in other parts of the country.
Sadiq Khan said despite falling figures, the virus “is still out there” and could risk overwhelming the NHS and reversing efforts already made to contain COVID-19.
The new “test, track, trace” (TTT) system would include testing people for coronavirus, tracking the spread of the virus, then tracing the people an infected person has come into contact with.
On Thursday, Khan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m still very cautious, the virus is still out there.
“But what this good news – and it is good news – gives us is a window of opportunity to begin the test, trace, isolate and support programme which we so desperately need.”
The mayor said he believes now is the right time to adopt the technology, while numbers of infection appear to decline.
He continued: “Let me tell you why: we know that test, trace, isolate works best when numbers are low and we’ve got a small window now to be testing everyone that has got symptoms, to be tracing everyone they have been in contact with over the last few days and then to make sure they are tested, isolated and supported.
“Because my fear is that this good news could lead to complacency, which could lead to a second wave that would overwhelm the NHS and be really bad for people’s lives, but also their livelihoods.”
Widespread contact tracing was originally abandoned in mid-March as the number of cases soared in the UK.
However, TTT - which has been tested on the Isle of Wight - is now seen as a crucial component of efforts to safely ease the lockdown whilst avoiding a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
Speaking during PMQs, the prime minister said: “We’re making fast progress in testing and tracing and I have great confidence that by June 1 we will have a system that will enable us, that will help us very greatly to defeat this disease and move the country forward.”
He said 25,000 staff would be in place by the start of next month and they would be capable of tracking the contacts of up to 10,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.
Meanwhile, NHS bosses have warned how “time is running out” for the government to launch its track and trace system if Britain is to avoid a second spike of the virus.
In the letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, NHS Confederation CEO Niall Dickson said while the prime minister’s plans to launch the system by June was “very much welcome”, “delivery and implementation will be critical, and we await further details”.
“We would therefore urge you to produce such a strategy with a clear implementation plan ahead of any further easing of the lockdown,” he wrote.