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WHO emphasizes importance of contact tracing to curb COVID-19



File photo: WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. [Photo/Agencies]

The World Health Organization on Monday called for a step up in contact tracing as a major tool to suppress COVID-19 transmission as the pandemic continues to rapidly spread around the world, including among indigenous peoples.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed deep concern about the impact of the novel coronavirus on indigenous peoples in the Americas, which remains in the current epicenter of the pandemic.

More than 70,000 COVID-19 cases were reported up to July 6 among indigenous peoples in the Americas, and more than 2,000 deaths, according to the WHO.

"One of the key tools for suppressing COVID-19 transmission in indigenous communities and all communities is contact tracing," Tedros told a virtual news conference from Geneva.

He noted that lockdown measures can help reduce COVID-19 transmission, but they cannot completely stop it. "No country can get control of its epidemic if it doesn't know where the virus is," he said.

Tedros described contact tracing as essential for finding and isolating cases and identifying and quarantining their contacts.

While mobile applications can support contact tracing, Tedros said that nothing replaces boots on the ground – trained workers going door-to-door to find cases and contacts, and break the chains of transmission.

"Contact tracing is essential for every country, in every situation. It can prevent individual cases from becoming clusters, and clusters turning into community transmission," he said, adding that it is all the more critical as countries are opening up.

Tedros said that contact tracing must be part of a comprehensive package. "But it is one of the most important," he said.

The United States government has drawn fire for blocking funding to contact tracing, testing and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also known as the CDC.

The White House is seeking to block congressional plans to provide additional billions of dollars to states for COVID-19 testing and tracing, and for the CDC and other health agencies, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.

The US, with more than 3.5 million cases and 137,000 deaths from COVID-19, is by far the worst-hit in the world.

The US has no federal program or mobile application to trace the contacts of people with coronavirus infections, leaving it to local authorities.

Reuters reported on Monday that Uber has quietly launched a service to give public health officials quick access to data on drivers and riders presumed to have come into contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

A recent Reuters review of contact tracing policies by 32 US state and local health departments found most did not use ride-hailing data to track the virus spread. Among those neglecting the data are Texas and Florida, states that have seen a surge in new infections.