The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt across the globe. Governments across the world during 2020 and into 2021 have quite rightly sought to minimize the loss of life through lockdowns of various types. This has had the desired effect and has reduced infection rates and mortality. From the start of 2021, we have seen the much-anticipated large-scale roll-out of vaccines which is now signaling the possible return to normality at least for some parts of the World.
This policy brief discusses the role of testing for COVID‑19 as part of any plan to lift confinement restrictions and prepare for a possible new wave of viral infections. If all confinement restrictions are lifted before a vaccine or effective treatments are developed without other measures to suppress new infections, the infection rate is expected to rebound rapidly. Crucially, quick suppression of infections requires testing more people to identify who is infected; tracking them to make sure they do not spread the disease further; and tracing with whom they have been in contact. This brief discusses how testing strategies can be used to achieve three main goals:
1) suppressing the resurgence of local outbreaks;
2) identifying people who have developed some form of immunity and can safely return to work; and
3) gaining intelligence on the evolution of the epidemic, including on when a threshold for herd immunity has been reached. The brief discusses what tests can be used for each goal, as well as practical implementation issues with testing strategies, including the opportunities and risks of using digital tools in this context.