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Modelling the Health and Economic Impacts of Population-Wide Testing, Contact Tracing and Isolation (PTTI) Strategies for COVID-19 in the UK
83 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2020More...
Background: The COVID-19 epidemic in the UK has resulted in over 280,000 reported cases and over 40,000 deaths as of 5th June 2020. In the context of a slower increase in reported cases and deaths associated with COVID-19 over the last few weeks compared to earlier in the epidemic, the UK is starting to relax the physical restrictions (‘lockdown’) that have been imposed since 23 March 2020. This has been accompanied by the announcement of a strategy to test people for infection, trace contacts of those tested positive, and isolate positive diagnoses. While such policies are expected to be impactful, there is no conclusive evidence of which approach to this is likely to achieve the most appropriate balance between benefits and costs. This study combines mathematical and economic modelling to estimate the impact, costs, feasibility, and health and economic effects of different strategies.
Methods: We provide detailed description, impact, costing, and feasibility assessment of population-scale testing, tracing, and isolation strategies (PTTI). We estimate the impact of different PTTI strategies with a deterministic mathematical model for SARS-CoV-2 transmission that accurately captures tracing and isolation of contacts of individuals exposed, infectious, and diagnosed with the virus. We combine this with an economic model to project the mortality, intensive care, hospital, and non-hospital case outcomes, costs to the UK National Health Service, reduction in GDP, and intervention costs of each strategy. Model parameters are derived from publicly available data, and the model is calibrated to reported deaths associated with COVID-19. We modelled 31 scenarios in total (Panel 2). The first 18 comprised nine with ‘triggers’ (labelled with the -Trig suffix) for subsequent lockdown periods (>40,000 new infections per day) and lockdown releases (<10,000 new infections per day), and nine corresponding scenarios without triggers, namely: no large-scale PTTI (scenario 1); scale-up of PTTI to testing the whole population every week, with May–July 2020 lockdown release (scenario 2b), or delayed lockdown release until scale-up complete on 31 August 2020 (scenario 2a); these two scenarios with mandatory use of face coverings (scenarios 3a and 3b); and scenarios 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b replacing untargeted PTTI with testing of symptomatic people only (scenarios 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d). The final 13 scenarios looked at: whole population weekly testing to suppress the epidemic with lower tracing success (scenarios 3b-Trig00, 3b-Trig10, 3b-Trig20, 3b-Trig30) and switched to targeted testing after two months when it may suppress the epidemic (scenarios 3b-Trig00-2mo and 3b-Trig30-2mo), and targeted testing with lower tracing success (scenarios 4d-Trig10, 4dTrig20, 4d-Trig30, 4d-Trig40, 4d-Trig50, 4d-Trig60, 4d-Trig70).
Findings: Given that physical distancing measures have already been relaxed in the UK, scenario 4d-Trig (targeted testing of symptomatic people only, with a mandatory face coverings policy and subsequent lockdown triggered to enable PTTI to suppress the epidemic), is a strategy that will result in the fewest deaths (~52,000) and has the lowest intervention costs (~£8bn). The additional lockdown results in total reduction in GDP of ~£503bn, less than half the cost to the economy of subsequent lockdowns triggered in a scenario without PTTI (scenario 1-Trig, ~£1180bn reduction in GDP, ~105,000 deaths). In summer months, with lower cold and flu prevalence, approximately 75,000 symptomatic people per day need to be tested for this strategy to work, assuming 64% of their contacts are effectively traced (~80% traced with 80% success) within the infectious period (most within the first two days and nearly all by seven days) and all are isolated – including those without any symptoms – for 14 days. Untargeted testing of everyone every week, if it were feasible, may work without tracing, but at a higher cost (scenario 3b-Trig00). This cost could be reduced by switching to targeted testing after the epidemic is suppressed (scenario 3b-Trig30-2mo), though we note the epidemic could be suppressed with targeted testing itself providing tracing and isolation has at least a 32% success rate (scenario 4dTrig40).
Interpretation: PTTI strategies to suppress the COVID-19 epidemic within the context of a relaxation of lockdown will necessitate subsequent lockdowns to keep the epidemic suppressed during PTTI scale-up. Targeted testing of symptomatic people only can suppress the epidemic if accompanied by mandated use of face coverings. The feasibility of PTTI depends on sufficient capacity, capabilities, infrastructure and integrated systems to deliver it. The political and public acceptability of alternative scenarios for subsequent lockdowns needs to take account of crucial implications for employment, personal and national debt, education, population mental health and non-COVID-19 disease. Our model is able to incorporate additional scenarios as the situation evolves.
Funding: No specific funding was received in support of this study. Grant support for specific authors is as follows: WW acknowledges support from the Chief Scientist Office (COV/EDI/20/12) RR, JPG and EP are supported by the National Institute for Health Research ARC North Thames. NMcG is a recipient of an NIHR Global Health Research Professorship award (Ref: RP-2017-08-ST2-008). The views expressed in this independent research are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the National Institute for Health Research or the Department of Health and Social Care. KMG is supported by the UK Medical Research Council (MC_UU_12011/4), the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR Senior Investigator (NF-SI-0515-10042) and NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre (IS-BRC-1215-20004)), British Heart Foundation (RG/15/17/3174) and the US National Institute On Aging of the National Institutes of Health (Award No. U24AG047867). GY acknowledges her research partially supported from the Newton Fund through a UK-China ARM Partnership Hub award (No:MR/S013717/1).
Declaration of Interests: All authors declare no competing interests.
Keywords: Testing, tracing and isolation, COVID-19, Epidemic suppression, economic evaluation, policy options
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