Lifting restrictions: the role of therapeutics, testing and contact-tracing apps

AuthorDumbrava, Costica
Lifting coronavirus restrictions
7. Lifting restrictions: The role of therapeutics, testing and
contact-tracing apps
7.1. The role of therapeutics
As stated by the WHO in its Covid-19 strategy update, it is 'ultimately the development and delivery
of a safe and effective vaccine or vaccines and therapeutics that may enable a transition away from
some of the measures necessary to maintain this state of low-level or no transmission'. Similarly, the
joint European roadmap to lifting coronavirus containment measures maintained that 'the
development of a safe and effective vaccine is crucial to help put an end to the Covid-19 pandemic'
and that 'societies will have to live with the virus until a vaccine or treatment is found'.
Given the great level of scientific activism and resource mobilisation, there is cautious optimism145
that there may be a Covid-19 vaccine sometime soon. The EMA estimates, however, that it could
take at least a year before a vaccine against Covid-19 is ready for approval and then available in
sufficient quantities to enable widespread use.
The challenge relates not only to developing and testing a vaccine but also to manufacturing and
distributing it to potentially billions of people who need it. According to Soumya Swaminathan, the
WHO chief scientist, in an optimistic scenario146 there may be enough doses of a vaccine next year
to immunise healthcare, followed by larger scale immunisation in 2022, though it might take four
to five years to inoculate the world. The concern with projecting unrealistically rosy timelines for
vaccines147 is that this may soon provide ammunition to a growing number of vaccine-sceptics148
and may generally diminish public trust and support for long-term containment measures.
Despite the great number of clinical trials, it is not clear when a Covid-19 treatment will be available.
First of all, given the complexity of the virus, it is unlikely that a catch-all drug will be able to tackle
all the effects of the disease. It is encouraging that there are so many candidates for Covid-19
treatments, although this variety may also be a sign of fragmentation, effort duplication and,
generally, lack of coordination.149
7.2. The role of testing
The existence of appropriate monitoring capacity, which includes large-scale testing, is one of the
three criteria identified in the joint European roadmap for lifting coronavirus containment measures.
The roadmap considers measures to expand testing capacity as a precondition for lifting social
distancing measures. This includes rolling out serological testing to assess the acquired immunity
of the population and rolling out self-testing kits, 'once properly validated and their reliability
ensured'. In its communication on a phased and coordinated approach for restoring freedom of
movement and lifting internal border controls, issued on 13 May, the Commission stated that
restrictions on travel should first be lifted in areas with a comparable epidemiological situation, and
'where sufficient capabilities are in place in terms of hospitals, testing, surveillance and contact
tracing capacities'.
145 C. Zimmer, K. Sheikh and N. Weiland, 'A New Entry in the Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine: Hope',
New York Times
20 May 2020.
146 C. Hodgson, 'WHO's chief scientist offers bleak assessment of challenges ahead',
Financial Times
, 13 May 2020.
147 H. Branswell, Mounting promises on Covid-19 vaccines are fueling false expectations, experts say, STAT, 6 May 2020.
148 S. Zhang, 'We Don’t Even Have a COVID-19 Vaccine, and Yet the Conspiracies Are Here',
The Atlantic
, 24 May 2020.
149 A. Mullard, 'Flooded by the torrent: the COVID-19 drug pipeline',
, Vol. 395, 18 April 2020.

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