Local authorities are still waiting for guidance from the government on how they will support the new coronavirus ‘Test and Trace’ scheme – following its national launch this week.
Councils are expected to play a key role in tackling localised Covid-19 outbreaks, which will be vital to ensuring cases do not flare up again as the lockdown restrictions are eased.
But council leaders say they have yet to be given sufficient information to allow them to roll out systems locally, despite the launch of the national track and trace service on Thursday.
Under the scheme, people who test positive for Covid-19 will be asked by contact tracers to list individuals who they have been in recent close contact with, who will then be asked to self-isolate and get tested themselves if they develop symptoms.
The government expects councils to create their own ‘local outbreak control plans’ as part of this system, with £300 million being provided for local authorities. Ministers say the local plans should be in place by the end of June.
Abi Brown, leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, says the authority has yet to receive its allocation from this fund.
But she is ‘reassured’ that the government has recognised the important role local authorities will play.
Mrs Brown said: “The details are still emerging on the test and trace scheme. Local authorities have a strong background in areas such as public health, and that experience will be valuable as we move forward.
“We have been give some directions in how it’s going to work, and they’ve made it clear that they want it to be locally-led by the leader of the council. But we are still waiting for the details. As soon as as get that steer I think we’ll be able to move very quickly in putting the systems in place.”
The government says that the local plans will focus on ‘identifying and containing potential outbreaks’ in places such as workplaces, housing complexes, care homes and schools, through the deployment of testing and support for self-isolating individuals.
A national Joint Biosecurity Centre will work with councils and public health teams in dealing with these local outbreaks.
Staffordshire County Council will take a lead role in managing outbreaks in Staffordshire.
Deputy council leader Alan White, who is cabinet member for health care and wellbeing, urged residents to do their bit in tackling Covid-19.
He said: “The council and everyone who lives, works or visits Staffordshire has a huge role to play in containing this virus.
“As restrictions start to be lifted, it is as important as ever that we follow the advice on hand washing and social distancing if we are going to prevent a second peak of infections.
“If you are contacted by the new Test and Trace service please do as they ask and self-isolate for 14 days.
“This is about protecting yourself, your family, and the wider community – and avoiding a second peak and further “lock-down” restrictions.
“There are still difficult times ahead as we balance easing “lock-down” with trying to contain the virus, but as always we will get through this together in Staffordshire.”
The government says that 25,000 contact tracers have now been recruited, who will have the capacity to deal with 10,000 cases a day.
Anyone who tests positive for coronavirus will be contacted and asked to share information about their recent interactions. This could include household members, people with whom they have been in direct contact, or within two metres for more than 15 minutes.
The contact tracers will then contact those individuals and tell them to stay at home for 14 days. If those in isolation develop symptoms they can book at test through the NHS online portal or by calling 119.
If they test positive, they must continue to stay at home for seven days or until their symptoms have passed. If they test negative, they must complete the 14-day isolation period.
Dido Harding, executive chairwoman of NHS Test and Trace, said: “NHS Test and Trace will not succeed on its own – we all need to play our part. This is why we are working hand-in-hand with communities and local authorities across the country to tailor support at a local level, and respond quickly to local needs. And we will be constantly developing and improving as we go. Together we can help contain the virus, stop it spreading further and ultimately save lives.
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