Covid tests are essential for all other schemes

(16 September, 2020)

Surely the government should be investing in and trusting councils and local health providers up and down the country to take the lead on these services?


The lack of coronavirus testing has dominated the headlines this week – and many fear that schools across the country will be forced to close again.

The true picture in Southwark, like elsewhere, is completely reliant on the tests. Without the tests, the track and trace system and other initiatives to contain the virus become somewhat obsolete.

Our front page story last week of a Dulwich resident being told to go to Scotland for a walk-in coronavirus test, with more told to go to Wales, Oldham and the Isle of Wight was mirrored by similar articles across the nation. The question on everyone’s lips is why did the government allow this to happen, when it knew demand would increase as more people returned to work and children to school?

Southwark Council’s new leader Kieron Williams told the News that the problem with central government approach to the pandemic from the outset has been too heavily reliant on national providers, from PPE to those currently carrying out the test.

In the worst hit areas of the country, in places like Bolton, the council there have said that these providers are brought in and they are informed after, with many residents struggling to know what is happening and where to go.

Surely the government should be investing in and trusting councils and local health providers up and down the country to take the lead on these services? After all, they are the local experts and have much of the vital information about residents at their finger-tips.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Southwark’s then Council leader Peter John, who also chairs London Councils, was careful not to criticise the government response too heavily, but as the weeks and months of lockdown continued and essential communication became more and more of a problem he made clear his concerns.

This is yet another example of the government failing to work effectively with local authorities.

In this borough two pilots are now underway that do show a commitment to take control of the pandemic at a local level.

Southwark is one of four councils recruited by Public Health England to carry out local contact tracing, with officers being given instructions to even knock on people to trace those not responding to track and trace.

Alongside Hammersmith and Fulham, Newham, the City of London and Hackney, Southwark was selected on a priority basis, taking into consideration case rates, positivity rates and readiness to implement.

In this week’s paper we highlight the second pilot to start today which will see a council scheme where businesses such as café, pubs and restaurants will be rated for their social distancing measures, track and trace arrangements and cleanliness.

It will be important to see how both these schemes are implemented by the council and know they can be then used elsewhere. However, without an adequate level of testing these measures will be hard to evaluate.



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