Mass testing to end the COVID-19 public health threat

Cecile Philippe, Yaneer Bar-Yam, Stephane Bilodeau. Carlos Gershenson, Sunil K.Raina, Shu-Ti Chiou, Gunhild A. Nyborg, Matthias F.Schneider

The Lancet Regional Health – Europe
Volume 25, February 2023, 100574

After a period where many countries have let the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread more or less freely, individuals and communities are now grappling with the many negative health effects and economic ramifications from high levels of illness over long periods. As evidence of the detrimental long-term effects of the virus mount, it is increasingly clear that the policy vacuum comes at an unacceptable price both in the short and long term; its only justification would be if there was no other alternative that did not come at an even greater cost. Entering the cold season, the number of infections will most likely increase significantly in Europe (≈ one – two order of magnitude in 2021). While the world awaits and hopes for new and more effective vaccines, we need tools in the toolbox that can effectively control transmission of rapidly spreading new variants, especially if more pathogenic. Otherwise, we may face significant disruptions and enormous costs due to repeated waves of illness, with each wave increasing the numbers of workers thrown out of the workforce from long term health effects. Lockdowns, due to their social restrictions and high short-term economic costs, are no longer the best available option. We here point out that mass testing (regular asymptomatic screening of the general population) is an alternative approach that can dramatically reduce cases and quickly restore economic and social activity.

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