William Waites involved in test, trace and isolate study to save lives and economy

[2020] Population-wide testing, contact tracing and isolation in the UK could save more than 50,000 lives and around £700bn over the next two years, research suggests.

Covid testing from your car

A study involving Edinburgh computer scientist Dr William Waites used mathematical and economic models to investigate the effectiveness of more than 30 different approaches to tackling Covid-19.

The findings – which have yet to be peer reviewed – show that combining targeted testing of people with symptoms, tracing and isolating their contacts, and widespread use of face coverings could suppress the epidemic.  

Effective strategy

The approach would minimise related deaths – to an estimated 52,000 – and, at around £8bn, would have the lowest costs to the economy.

Around £500bn of GDP has already gone towards tackling the epidemic. Without population-wide testing, contact tracing and isolation – known as PTTI – researchers say an estimated £1.2 trillion would be lost in total. Under this scenario, the team also predict around 105,000 lives would be lost.

Our results make a strong case for expanding testing and tracing immediately to control Covid-19 spread until a vaccine or highly effective drugs are available.

Dr Tim Colbourn
University College London

Tackling Covid-19

The study also revealed that using face coverings in public places makes all PTTI strategies more effective by leading to fewer deaths, less time in lockdown, and lower associated costs.

Led by University College London, the research also involved the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Universities of Edinburgh, Haifa, Southampton, Oxford, Leicester and York.

The research is published as a pre-print, available here: https://github.com/ptti/ptti/blob/master/docs/PTTI-Covid-19-UK.pdf

Our study used a novel mathematical model with economic analysis to explore a large number of scenarios of testing and tracing at different proportions and alongside other interventions. Our results highlight the importance of these components as we move towards large-scale PTTI implementation.

Dr William Waites
School of Informatics

The work was funded by the Chief Scientist Office, National Institute for Health Research, Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the Newton Fund.

Related links

Preprint paper

Image credit: ArtistGNDphotography via Getty Images