Was COVID-19 downgraded from being a high-consequence infectious disease?

CLAIM: The UK Government downgraded COVID-19 from being classified as a high-consequence infectious disease (HCID).

CONCLUSION: ACCURATE WITH CONSIDERATION. COVID-19 was downgraded by the UK Government on 19 March 2020 because it was deemed to be better understood, testing was available, and clinical awareness had risen.

COVID-19 was first classified as a High-Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID) in the UK on 16 January 2020, when it was referred to as the “Wuhan novel coronavirus WN-CoV”. It was then downgraded from HCID status by the UK government on 19 March 2020.

However, important context is missing from this simple-sounding statement.

In the UK, an HCID is defined according to the following criteria:

    • acute infectious disease;
    • typically has a high case-fatality rate;
    • may not have effective prophylaxis or treatment;
    • often difficult to recognise and detect rapidly;
    • ability to spread in the community and within healthcare settings; and 
    • requires an enhanced individual, population and system response to ensure it is managed effectively, efficiently and safely. 

The UK government explained: 

“Now that more is known about COVID-19, the public health bodies in the UK have reviewed the most up to date information about COVID-19 against the UK HCID criteria. They have determined that several features have now changed; in particular, more information is available about mortality rates (low overall), and there is now greater clinical awareness and a specific and sensitive laboratory test, the availability of which continues to increase.”

The government also stated that cases of COVID-19 were no longer only managed by high consequence infectious disease treatment centres. 

This fact check was part of FactCheckNI’s investigation into multiple claims made in a leaflet distributed in parts of Lagan Valley constituency.


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