Contact tracing programme to launch tomorrow as councils to play 'whack-a-mole' on local outbreaks

The Government’s test and trace programme will come into effect tomorrow paving the way for local lockdowns to stop flare ups of coronavirus across the country.

Last week it was announced that initially 11 local authorities - including Leeds - would draw up plans on how to impose these lockdowns, but all councils from tomorrow will now be asked to do this, with the £300m announced last week shared between all of them.

But issues surrounding some of the data getting to local councils remained.

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The Manchester Evening News reported last week that test results processed at private laboratories were handed to Public Health England to pass on to councils, but the quality of the data was the issue, as it was not broken down to a local level.

A test sample at the Eothen Homes care home in Whitley Bay, Tyneside, where all staff and residents are being tested for coronavirus. Photo: PA

It raised questions over how accurate understanding the situation locally could be without this. It is understood efforts are ongoing to resolve this.

In terms of lockdown what ‘local’ means - whether that is a village, town, city, county, or region - would vary based on the circumstances.

Baroness Dido Harding, chair of the Government's test and trace programme, said councils were “playing an important game of whack-a-mole”.

From tomorrow, anyone who tests positive for coronavirus will be contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service asking for information about who they have had contact with.

Those who the infected person has been in contact with will then be asked to isolate for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms, to stop the spread.

If they do develop symptoms a new NHS number, 119, has been set up so they can book a test.

Some 25,000 contact tracers are in place and can trace the contacts of 10,000 people per day, the Government said.

Baroness Harding said: “This is a brand new service which has been launched at incredible speed and scale. NHS Test and Trace already employs over 40,000 people, both directly and through trusted partners, who are working hard to deliver both testing and contact tracing at scale.

“This is no small achievement and I am hugely grateful to everyone involved.

“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.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: "As we move to the next stage of our fight against coronavirus, we will be able to replace national lockdowns with individual isolation and, if necessary, local action where there are outbreaks.

"NHS Test and Trace will be vital to stopping the spread of the virus. It is how we will be able to protect our friends and family from infection, and protect our NHS.

"This new system will help us keep this virus under control while carefully and safely lifting the lockdown nationally."