I have called on the Government to adopt the advice of the World Health Organisation on community-based testing and contact-tracing to prevent the further spread of Covid-19 and as a precondition for any relaxation of the lockdown.
The First Minister of State, Dominic Raab, has set out five conditions for the lifting of the lockdown but they do not include the clear WHO advice that health systems must have the capacity to “detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact”.
HOW COMMUNITY-BASED SCHEMES COULD HELP
A Green Party report, published on Tuesday and put together by the party’s health team with input from other experts, makes the case that we will prevent further Covid-19 outbreaks and new lockdowns only if there is a network of community-based protection schemes, or “community shields”, which can respond quickly to any re-emergence of Covid-19 once the current lockdown is lifted.
These “shields”, co-ordinated by Public Health England’s regional Outbreak Management Teams, would be created by bringing together and building on existing systems including the NHS 111 phone service, GP surgeries and local authority public health teams to identify those with symptoms, arrange for their testing and then, crucially, trace all their contacts in order to stamp out outbreaks of the virus in the communities where it’s happening.
This test-trace-isolate strategy has been followed successfully by countries which have been more effective than the UK in suppressing the virus, such as South Korea and Germany.
If attempts to lift the lockdown are made before this infrastructure is in place, we’re likely to see a repeating cycle of national lockdowns as surges of new cases of the virus occur.
I plan to table an Early Day Motion on Tuesday when Parliament re-opens calling for community-based protection schemes to be put in place.
GOVERNMENT'S RECORD ON TESTING
The Government record on testing in this crisis has been poor, with a change in strategy which squandered vital time, and mixed signals coming from ministers and scientific advisers who have even suggested that WHO advice doesn’t somehow apply to Britain. It would be criminally negligent if it compounded this error by failing to listen to the WHO’s advice on the criteria which need to be in place before lifting the lockdown. It is profoundly worrying that the “Five Conditions for Exit” announced by First Minister Dominic Raab last week made no mention of this advice.
A community shield approach wouldn’t only help trace outbreaks of the virus where they occur and allow a swift response, it would also provide support to Covid-19 patients by monitoring their condition by phone and app, leaving them safely at home but not isolated. This would give people the reassurance they need to exit lockdown with confidence when the time is right.
Preparations need to be made now to allow these “shields” to be in place for the ending of lockdown once the upward curve of infections has been brought down. The system could be activated immediately in communities where the infection rate is low, and rolled out more widely as the number of cases declines.
People need the reassurance that lifting the lockdown won’t result in further out-of-control outbreaks and this would help give it to them – and build on the amazing community solidarity we have seen in the past few weeks.
The full report is available on this link - Building a Community Shield to Suppress the Coronavirus April 2020.pdf