Spain brings military discipline to COVID-19 contact tracing

By Miguel Gutierrez and Isla Binnie
MADRID (Reuters) - Various European countries have deployed their armies to provide logistical support in the fight against COVID-19, but hard-hit Spain is now bringing military discipline into a process that health experts say is key to containing the spread of the pandemic: contact tracing .
At five military bases in Madrid, 150 volunteer soldiers spend their days calling people diagnosed with COVID-19, recording recent social interactions, and asking those potentially infected to stay home.
"We're trying to get them the idea that their help is crucial in ending the chaos we're going through this year as soon as possible," said Lt. Hector Sanchez at the Goloso military base on the outskirts of Madrid He is responsible for 30 tracers.
"We can't check that people are doing their part and isolating. We want to believe that, but obviously we can't control people," he said.
With 741 COVID-19 infections per 100,000 people, Madrid is the epicenter of one of the worst national case numbers in Western Europe. Spain has reported nearly 836,000 cumulative infections and 32,562 deaths since the pandemic started in March.
Of the 2,000 troops the national government has offered to step up local search efforts, 1,783 have been deployed in 15 of Spain's 17 regions, Health Minister Salvador Illa said at a press conference Thursday.
Spain has performed more than 10 million swab tests, but public health experts say testing alone is not enough, stressing the importance of contact tracing, a strategy that disrupts the transmission of infectious diseases for decades.
According to the Madrid-based Carlos III Institute of Health, an average of three contacts are identified nationwide for every person who tests positive.
It's difficult to pinpoint the source of an outbreak in a populous area like Madrid, Sanchez said, and one infected person could infect two or three more so his team had to act quickly.
"Our job is to prevent it from spreading to three other people, because then it's a never-ending chain."

(Reporting by Miguel Gutierrez and Isla Binnie, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Gareth Jones)

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