Work from home to stop spread, says scientist honoured with OBE for Covid work

Professor Tim Spector said quarantine of close contacts could be ‘counter-productive’.

Aine Fo
Wednesday 08 December 2021 14:14
Professor Timothy Spector – Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College, London – with his award after he was made a OBE (Steve Parsons/PA)
Professor Timothy Spector – Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College, London – with his award after he was made a OBE (Steve Parsons/PA)

A scientist honoured for his work during the pandemic said working from home is “an obvious way” to tackle the spread of the Omicron variant, as he questioned the isolation rules for contacts of positive cases.

Professor Tim Spector told of his concerns that the requirement for people who are close contacts of people with the new variant to quarantine could be “counter-productive” and put people off getting tested.

The professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London (KCL) has become a well-known name and face during the course of the past two years, leading the Covid Symptom Study (CSS) app with health-science company Zoe, which sees users provide health data to help researchers and the NHS better understand coronavirus.

He was made an OBE at Windsor Castle on Wednesday for services to the Covid-19 response.

The scale and speed of it amazed us all really, it captured the mood of the moment I think very much, thinking back to March 2020

Prof Tim Spector on the success of the Zoe Covid app

He said isolation requirements, which were reintroduced even for the double-jabbed last month due to the emergence of Omicron, could “devastate” professions including the NHS, teaching and care homes.

Asked about the possibility of tighter measures being brought by the Government, Prof Spector said: “I’m not sure the 10-day quarantine is a useful measure and I think it will put people off getting tested, perhaps something a bit counter-productive.

“It sort of penalises those people, and often it will be after they’ve already spread it and if it carries on it will devastate the health service and other workers. So I think that needs to be revised.

Working from home is an obvious way to reduce mobility and reduce the speed at which this (variant spread) happens.”

He said track and trace “has never been shown to work in this country effectively and it’s even less likely to work with Omicron given how transmissible it is”.

Due to the suspected speed of transmission of the new variant, he said that by the time people have received their test results and been contacted by NHS Test and Trace “they’ll have already spread it – so all you’re doing is causing economic chaos really”.

Professor Tim Spector was honoured for services to the coronavirus response (Steve Parsons/PA)

Prof Spector said he had not seen the footage apparently showing aides joking about a Christmas party at Downing Street last year, but that any breaches of rules by public figures is “disappointing”.

He said: “It’s the past, I’ve made enough comments on the Government in the past.”

Asked if it was disappointing, he added: “Any breaches by public figures and Government is disappointing, but I think we’ve got to look now and lead by example now.”

He said Christmas parties for both KCL and Zoe have been cancelled this year, describing that as a “real sacrifice for many people”.

He added: “I think that’s the sort of example that we need to be leading by, how we can just slightly reduce all our risk a bit so we can get through the Christmas period really without major disasters to the health system.”

He said he wasn’t calling for a widespread ban on festive parties, but advised people to “do it in smaller groups, do it outside”.

His app was set up within just five days in March last year, and the scientist paid tribute to the team effort behind it.

Prof Spector said: “The scale and speed of it amazed us all really, it captured the mood of the moment I think very much, thinking back to March 2020.

“It was a great thing to be part of. It may have been my idea, but there was a huge technical team behind it – both my colleagues at King’s and also the team at Zoe that got it together in five days to make it happen.

“That was the amazing bit, that we all worked together as a team because no one individual could do these things.”

He described receiving his honour from the Prince of Wales as a “great historical event”.

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