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The WHO said it is a ‘lame excuse’ to claim COVID-19 contact tracing is too difficult — a clear dig at countries like the UK and US

The WHO said it is a ‘lame excuse’ to claim COVID-19 contact tracing is too difficult — a clear dig at countries like the UK and US

FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 24, 2020 file photo, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), addresses a press conference about the update on COVID-19 at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The European Union is calling for an independent evaluation of the World Health Organization’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, “to review experience gained and lessons learned.” (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)

The director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was a “lame excuse” to claim that contact tracing is too difficult, in an apparent criticism of countries like the US and UK which have struggled to pilot effective programs.

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 during 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

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.

A woman awaits an Ebola vaccination in DRC.

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 (DRC).

To get a sense of what a truly difficult contact-tracing effort is like, Tedros said to “try it in a place like North Kivu in DRC where 20 rebels operate, armed rebels and where security is not there, where your own security is precarious.”

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.

However, Ryan, who was also at the briefing, did note that it is much harder to do when cases are out of control.

“In situations where there’s very intense community transmission and large numbers of cases every day it’s very hard to get on top of case isolation alone, never mind contact tracing, so countries may need to make some choices in that regard,” he said.

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

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

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