The NHS is to implement a surveillance system to detect cases of COVID-19 in England to prepare for and prevent wider transmission of the virus, Public Health England (PHE) has said.
While there is no current evidence to show that the virus is circulating in the community in England, internationally there is evidence of wider transmission of the virus in areas outside of China, most recently Italy and South Korea.
The surveillance strategy being implemented will enable PHE to identify early evidence of spread within England, if this occurs. It will involve testing samples from patients with severe respiratory infections who do not meet the current case definition for COVID-19 at some NHS hospitals and GP surgeries so that both very unwell and mild cases can be found.
NHS hospitals asked to take part will test patients admitted to their intensive care units and Severe Respiratory Failure Centres. This will be complemented by testing of patients presenting with flu-like symptoms at around 100 GP surgeries across England.
Depending on the results, patients will be given the support they need and rapid public health actions will be taken.
Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director, PHE, said: “We have taken a belt and braces approach throughout this outbreak. This new system is another important way we can help limit the impact of COVID-19 in the UK, as we continue to ensure we have the best possible intelligence to protect the public’s health.”
She added: “There is no change in risk for the public but taking this preparatory step now will enable us to better detect and contain the spread of the virus. The UK’s infection control procedures are world-leading, and the system we are announcing today further strengthens our response.”