Covid: What contact tracing powers could local authorities get?

The new coronavirus contact tracing app on an iPhone
The new coronavirus contact tracing app on an iPhone - (Copyright PA Wire)
17:17pm, Sun 11 Oct 2020
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Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said councils are bound to do a better job of coronavirus contact tracing and that the Government will be supporting them to do this.

His comments come amid reports local authorities are to be given greater control over the NHS Test and Trace programme.

The Andrew Marr Show - (Copyright PA Wire)

While the details are still being hammered out between Downing Street and local leaders, here is what we know so far.

– Why are leaders talking about contact tracing?

The NHS Test and Trace programme has faced repeated criticism, with the service recording its worst week for contact tracing on Thursday.

Some 68.6% of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England were reached through the system in the week ending September 30, the lowest weekly percentage since Test and Trace began.

Local leaders have complained that their expertise has been ignored despite local health protection teams reaching 97.1% of contacts, compared with 62.4% by call centres.

– What has the Government said?

Mr Jenrick admitted that local councils that know their “hard-to-reach communities” are bound to do a better job of tracing, and the Government will be supporting them to do this.

Asked whether the Government is going to hand Test and Trace over to local authorities, Mr Jenrick told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “We’re going to work very closely with local authorities.”

It follows reports in The Sunday Times that more contact tracing is to be done by councils in an attempt to get NHS Test and Trace back on track and rising infection rates under control.

– What powers would be given to local authorities?

The Government has not set out exactly what powers will be given to local authorities.

HEALTH Testing - (Copyright PA Graphics)

But The Sunday Times reported plans are being drawn up to give local leaders powers to deploy an army of volunteer contact tracers as well as giving local authorities more control over mobile testing units and walk-in centres.

– How does local contact tracing work?

Once a person has a confirmed positive coronavirus test, their case is transferred to NHS Test and Trace, which makes an initial decision on how to handle it based on its complexity.

Non-complex cases are then contacted either online or by the call centre staff and asked to give details of their contacts.

But complex cases are escalated to local health protection teams who work to identify and reach recent close contacts and advise them to self-isolate.

– What are complex cases?

Public Health England (PHE) local health protection teams manage cases linked to outbreaks including people who work or have recently visited hospitals, care homes, prisons, special needs schools or critical national infrastructure or areas vital for national security.

– How are they managed?

HEALTH Coronavirus - (Copyright PA Graphics)

The teams will carry out risk assessments and provide advice and support on how to contain transmission, including following up on any close contacts identified and asking them to self-isolate.

– Do local teams pick up other cases?

A number of locally supported contact tracing teams have been set up across England, following up on contacts the national system has been unable to reach.

The PA news agency understands that 93 of the teams have been set up since August.

These teams pick up on contacts the national team has been unable to trace and try to get in touch with them themselves through specially trained local call handlers from the council, including checking local information to clarify and improve data details.

If this is not successful, then teams can knock on their door to try to make contact.

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