Research co-led by UCL and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has found that a second COVID-19 wave can be prevented if testing and tracing is scale-up in the UK.

The study used mathematical modelling calibrated to the UK coronavirus epidemic to explore the impact of combining test-trace-isolate strategies with reopening schools and more people returning to work from September.

The results of the modelling suggests that a second wave in the UK could be prevented with increased levels of testing – between 59%-87% of symptomatic people – as well as effective contact tracing and isolation.

The study estimates that, assuming 68% of contacts could be traced, 75% of those with symptomatic COVID-19 infection would beed to be diagnosed and isolated if schools return full-time in September.

If these measures are not implemented, the authors of the study say the reopening of schools alongside gradual relaxing of lockdown measures are likely to cause a secondary wave that would peak in December 2020, if schools open full-time in September.

“We need to scale up current TTI strategies to avoid COVID-19 resurgence later this year as we are planning to reopen schools in September,” said Dr Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths, UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care and The Queen’s College, Oxford University and lead author of the study.

“With UK schools reopening fully in September, prevention of a second wave will require a major scale-up of testing to test 75% of symptomatic infections – combined with tracing of 68% of their contacts, and isolation of symptomatic and diagnosed cases.

“Our findings suggest that reopening schools can form part of the next step of gradual relaxing of lockdown if combined with a high-coverage TTI strategy.

“If the strategy is effective enough, this would be a sufficient alternative to intermittent lockdown measures including further school closures while we await an effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2,” she added.