country experiences and way forward

This meeting on COVID-19 contact tracing was jointly organized by WHO/Europe and ECDC. It brought together COVID-19 contact tracing experts from 39 countries and territories in the WHO European Region, including 24 from the European Union (EU)/European Economic Area (EEA countries).

Contact tracing has been the cornerstone of countries’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it remains a key strategy to interrupt chains of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and reduce COVID-associated morbidity and mortality. -19. Although the pandemic is not over, many countries are transitioning to a more sustainable and integrated approach to the COVID-19 response. Contact tracing systems are adapting and still need to adapt to reflect this long-term change.

This COVID-19 contact tracing meeting jointly organized by WHO/Europe and ECDC was held online on 1 March 2022. The meeting brought together COVID-19 contact tracing experts from 39 countries and territories of the WHO European Region, including 24 European Union (EU)/European Economic Area (EEA) countries. The full list of participating countries can be found in Annex 1.

The meeting focused on two key topics: (i) experiences, challenges and solutions related to COVID-19 contact tracing, and (ii) how contact tracing can be better integrated into systems strengthening. healthcare and planning for pandemic preparedness in the future. Two breakout sessions were held to allow all countries to actively engage in discussions related to the above topics.

Thoughts on contact tracing

In the first part of the meeting, discussions on challenges related to COVID-19 contact tracing highlighted a substantial diversity of contact tracing strategies across European countries, including a variety of approaches to promote the public cooperation and ensure compliance with isolation and quarantine. Despite the diversity of contact tracing strategies, similar challenges were observed across countries, including difficulties with recruiting and training the workforce; sustainable funding; speed of access to cases/contacts, adjustment of contact tracing operations according to the epidemiological situation; issues around digitization and risk communication and community engagement. The need to collect high quality data to inform policy decisions on COVID-19 was also highlighted. At the time of the meeting, most countries had reduced the duration of isolation and quarantine and modified their contact tracing protocols following new evidence on the epidemiological characteristics of the Omicron variant, highlighting the need for systems flexible and adaptive contact tracing.

Future use of contact tracing

The second part of the meeting focused on the future use of contact tracing, both in relation to COVID-19 and as an integral part of health systems strengthening and future preparedness planning. a pandemic. Participants emphasized that it will be difficult to sustain human and financial resources for manual contact tracing, so alternative solutions were actively explored. Rather than relying on extensive contact tracing over the next few months, alternative solutions were considered, such as the need to promote and improve education campaigns, self-testing and digital systems. while focusing manual contact tracing efforts on vulnerable groups or high-risk settings such as long-term care homes. At the same time, it was recognized that established contact tracing systems should remain ready for rapid reactivation and scale-up when needed, and that good risk communication and community engagement should be a priority.

Conclusion

COVID-19 contact tracing strategies and practices have evolved during the pandemic, adapting to the ever-changing epidemiological situation, the emergence of new variants and the deployment of vaccines as well as naturally acquired immunity.

At the time of the meeting, a general trend of reduced contact tracing activities was underway based on an improving situation in the COVID-19 pandemic. During the meeting, there was broad consensus that established systems and skills related to contact tracing should be maintained and be ready for rapid reactivation, should the epidemiological situation require it. In addition, most participants anticipated that countries will need to continue to focus on contact tracing among vulnerable groups and in high-risk settings in the coming period and rely more on information and educating the general public rather than strengthening restrictive COVID-19 response measures.