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Contact Tracers Eye Cluster-Busting to Tackle Covid’s New Surge

Japan has shown success in containing the coronavirus with an approach that tracks infections to their source.

Japan set up a task force in February that focused on identifying clusters and stamping out widespread transmission, rather than trying to track down each individual case.
Japan set up a task force in February that focused on identifying clusters and stamping out widespread transmission, rather than trying to track down each individual case.Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg
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As a resurgent coronavirus sweeps across Europe and the U.S., some health experts are calling for a “cluster-busting” approach to contact tracing like the one Japan and other countries in Asia have used with success.

Rather than simply tracking down the contacts of an infected person and isolating them, proponents advocate finding out where the individual caught Covid-19 in the first place. That extra step, known as backward tracing, exploits a weak spot of the virus — the tendency for infections to occur in clusters, often at super-spreading events.