Four London boroughs have been asked by national government to work with it to design plans for controlling any fresh outbreaks of Covid-19 in the capital using the new “test and trace” service Boris Johnson has said will come into effect from the start of next month.
Camden Council has been chosen to lead this work in collaboration with Hackney, Barnet and Newham with a view to sharing best practice with other councils in London. The four boroughs will be given a share of £300 million allocated for parallel programmes to be developed by 10 other English local authority groupings.
The government has defined the local authorities’ task as developing “tailored outbreak control control plans, working with local NHS and other stakeholders”, including by “identifying and containing potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, housing complexes, care homes and schools” and ensuring that “testing capacity is deployed effectively to high-risk locations”.
The initiative has been welcomed by the leaders of the four boroughs, with Camden leader Georgia Gould saying “local government is uniquely positioned to make this work” due to deep, long-standing connections with our communities and expertise and adaptability on our front-line”.
Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville, who said in a recent On London podcast that borough knowledge and expertise would be invaluable in the next phase of containing the coronavirus as the lockdown begins to ease, expressed gratitude that such calls by him and others “have now been heard”.
His Newham counterpart Rokhsana Fiaz said the disease is “best understood as a pattern of local outbreaks” with distinctive local impacts, with “deprivation and health inequality” accounting for her borough having the highest mortality rate in the country. Like Gould and Glanville, she stressed ethnic diversity as a characteristic feature of London boroughs and the disproportionate effect it seems to be having among BAME groups.
Speaking for Barnet Council, its director of public health Dr Tamara Djuretic said her borough is “delighted to play an important role in shaping the interface between local, regional and national architecture for the test, trace and test programme. Successful, whole-system response to testing and contact tracing will be crucial in this phase of the pandemic”.
The four boroughs emphasise “five key skills” they believe local government can contribute: expertise in dealing with outbreaks of other contagious diseases; capacity to provide local public health teams to work with Public Health England; close understanding of local community networks; an ability to communicate well with specific groups of residents; stores of helpful data about about local people and their needs.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said on 14 May he did not want any further easing of the lockdown until an effective test-trace-isolate system is introduced. The PM said today that primary schools will begin opening for some students from 1 June along with outdoor markets and car showrooms with all non-essential shops to follow on 15 June.
Photograph by Omar Jan
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