Under-30s think coronavirus test and trace calls are an Amazon Prime scam, says Calderdale council leader

A local coronavirus test and trace scheme to plug the holes in the £10bn national system is being launched in a West Yorkshire district where lockdown measures have been reimposed.

Calderdale council, which has the sixth highest infection rate in England, hopes its local contact tracing system will be in place in the coming days and will use the authority's knowledge of local communities to reach more people.

Neighbouring Kirklees council says it is in the early stages of deciding whether to launch its own service to complement the national system, while Bradford council is in talks with government about setting up its own team.

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Some local contact tracing work has already been going on in recent days to improve the numbers of people in harder-to-reach communities responding to the scheme after being told a contact has tested positive for Covid-19.

Calderdale, Bradford and Kirklees are among the areas of the North where lockdown measures came into force this week because of a rise in coronavirus cases in recent days.

The local authority with the highest Covid-19 infection rate in England, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, has also set up its own contact tracing system.

Most recent figures show it currently tops the league table with 91 cases per 100,000 people followed by Leicester, Oldham and Bradford.

Tim Swift, the leader of Calderdale council. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Calderdale is ninth with 30 cases per 100,000 people – an increase of seven. Kirklees is 12th with 21 cases per 100,000 people – and no increase.

Local directors of public health are understood to be increasingly concerned by the low percentage of cases being successfully followed up by the national scheme.

According to the Guardian, Calderdale council will use native speakers of Urdu, Czech and Slovak to knock on the doors of people the national system was unable to reach.

All positive cases would get a text message from the council with a local number to call due to many people being unwilling to call an 0300 number, often believing it to be a hoax. If they don’t reply within 24 hours they get a knock on the door.

Tim Swift, leader of Calderdale council, said he hoped the local scheme would begin next Wednesday and that the national call-centre approach often failed to understand basic local issues like names in some communities not always fitting "neatly into a first-name-surname function”.

He said in a statement: “Testing is a really important first line of defence in controlling the spread of COVID-19, and we’re working hard to make it easier for more people to get tested in Calderdale.

"We have doubled our local testing in the last week, focusing on areas with the highest infection rates. We’re working together with other local organisations, including the voluntary sector, to encourage people across our communities to get tested if they have symptoms.

“We are also working with community groups and Public Health England to develop a local contact tracing service, which will build on the national system and we expect to be up and running very soon.

"This will mean we can use our knowledge of local communities to reach more people, and ensure that residents have the support they need to self-isolate if required.”

Coun Swift told The Yorkshire Post that staff from the council's environmental health and community and neighbourhood teams would be seconded to carry out the work, possibly with the help of volunteers.

He said around 50 per cent of people were being successfully contacted in Calderdale under the national system, which was struggling to adapt to a number of local factors in the district.

He said: "I was joking to somebody earlier, I don't know anybody under 30 who uses the voicemail on their answer phone, people just ring numbers back and of course they're getting called from an 0300 number and probably think it's somebody selling them an Amazon Prime scam.

"I think the national system works great if you live a reasonably structured life so you're pretty sure you're going to know who your main contacts are and have their details.

"We're talking about people who are working in casual jobs driving in private hire, working in local shops.

"It is difficult anyway, as well as then adding on to that the issues of trust in the system and cultural factors as well. It's a complicated job, don't underestimate the difficulties that a national phone system is going to have in those settings."

Sarah Muckle, Director of Public Health for Bradford Council, said: "We have long stated our wish to do local track and trace in the Bradford district. Learning from elsewhere shows that it makes a positive difference.

“We have a proposal with Government for consideration and are in active dialogue with them. We think it’s important to get this in place as quickly as possible and are readying our staff and partners to play their part."

A spokesman for Kirklees Council said: “We’ve worked closely with Public Health England on the Test and Trace system in Kirklees since its introduction, helping to make sure as many people as possible are contacted.

“We’re interested in doing everything we can to protect people in Kirklees and to bring our infection rates down.

“So we are in the very early stages of looking at the benefits of establishing our own test and trace system to complement the national system.

“In particular, we would like to use the data available to identify where in Kirklees has it been harder to contact people, so we can take target action to improve this.”

Last week, the Yorkshire council chief executive who worked on the national test and trace scheme said coronavirus can be beaten if Ministers use the local knowledge of town hall teams to make sure enough people are tested for the disease in hard-to-reach communities.

Tom Riordan, who returned to his role at Leeds City Council after two months working on the national test and trace scheme, said a partnership between Whitehall and local leaders was vital to containing the virus during the winter.

Laws enforcing lockdown restrictions in areas of the north of England including Manchester, parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire came into force this week.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) Regulations 2020 were finally published on Tuesday afternoon.

Ministers had said the rules - which ban people from different households meeting in a private home or garden following a spike in coronavirus cases - would apply from midnight on July 31.

The legislation imposes restrictions on metropolitan, city and borough council areas in: Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Rossendale, Calderdale and Kirklees.

Anyone found flouting the rules could be fined £100 up to a maximum of £3,200 for repeat offences.