Cold and flu symptoms should be viewed as potential Covid cases, doctors warn

‘GPs have to advise patients to be dishonest to get a coronavirus test,’ Chris Whitty told

Joe Sommerlad
Tuesday 02 February 2021 11:27 GMT

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Patients reporting symptoms of the common cold should be treated as possible coronavirus cases, a group of doctors has urged the government in a new open letter published by The British Medical Journal.

While Covid-19 is far more severe than seasonal influenza, the two conditions do share a number of symptoms like a runny or blocked nose, a sore throat and headaches, the GPs said, arguing it was “vital” that Boris Johnson’s Cabinet raised public awareness and brought its defintion of the respiratory disease in line with that of the World Health Organisation (WHO) as part of the broader campaign to tame the pandemic.

“These symptoms are often inadvertently picked up while dealing with patients’ other more pressing health issues,” the collective of 140 east London physicians and healthcare workers wrote to the UK’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty.

“These patients have frequently not even considered that they may have Covid-19 and have not self-isolated in the crucial early days when they were most infectious.

“The national publicity campaign [currently] focuses on cough, high temperature, and loss of smell or taste as symptoms to be aware of - only patients with these symptoms are able to access a Covid-19 test online through the NHS test booking site. GPs have to advise patients to be dishonest to get a Covid-19 test.

“It is vital to now change the UK Covid-19 case definition and test criteria to include coryza [runny nose] and cold, making them consistent with WHO.”

The signatories go on to advise Professor Whitty: “Tell the public, especially those who have to go out to work and their employers, that even those with mild symptoms (not only a cough, high temperature, and a loss of smell or taste) should not go out, prioritising the first five days of self-isolation when they are most likely to be infectious.

“This will help to get - and keep - us out of this indefinite lockdown, as Covid-19 becomes increasingly endemic globally. Ignoring this will be at our peril.”

The UK has suffered an estimated 3.84m cases of coronavirus and approximately 107,000 deaths since the pandemic struck last spring, with the government’s response heavily criticised and dogged by U-turns.

But the country’s vaccine rollout has proven a success so far, with 12 per cent of the population already inoculated, a pace far outstripping that of the US and EU.

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