County council urged to manage track and trace in-house

Liberal Democrats have reiterated calls for Essex to manage track and trace in-house as the county bids to go into Tier 2 restrictive measures.

David Finch, Essex County Council leader, said he took on board the points that Lib Dem group leader Mike Mackrory was making – that councils in England are best placed to track and trace Covid-infected people amidst reports from the The Local Government Association that councils have a 97 per cent success rate at finding close contacts, while the NHS test and trace is 67 per cent effective.

Essex’s track and trace system launched in July with responsibility for identifying, containing and reducing the spread of “complex cases of Covid-19 at a local level by supporting contact tracing for schools, care homes, workplaces and vulnerable groups.

Councillor Stephen Robinson and Cllr Mackrory, Lib Dems on ECC, echoed their national leader Ed Davey who has asked for local authorities to take full control of track and trace from central government.

At Tuesday’s ECC full council meeting, Cllr Mackrory said: “Will the leader ask the government to give Essex control because the LGA say local authorities have 97 per cent success rate in tracking people down and the government only has 67 per cent success.”

Cllr Finch said: “We are achieving high rates but I’ll take on board the points you are making.”

The leader of Lib Dem-run Chelmsford Council said the Tories were failing the country by not allowing councils to do most of the heavy lifting of track and trace.

He said: “We have proved that local councils are better, as so often is the case local decisions are better decisions.

“We should be given control of the testing and tracing.

“The Conservatives are supporting their friends in the private sector with massive national contacts which are not working. They have wasted millions on systems which aren’t working.

“They are not delivering what this country needs.

“At district council level we have a network of environmental health officers who are used to dealing with infection outbreaks in restaurants.

“What the government should have done is resource local councils to increase that capacity so we can run test and trace locally.”

ECC announced on Tuesday morning said that it was asking the government to place Essex in a Tier 2 category, in which people must not meet with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place. They must not meet in a group of more than six outside, including in a garden or other space.

The number of cases in Essex has risen from just over 700 in the week to October 2 to just over 1,000 in the week to October 9.

They say that by acting now – Covid is doubling every week – tighter restrictions will be avoided later on.

Cllr Robinson, who supports the plan said: “It is clear that the rise of infection especially in the west of the county is significant.

“Had the government acted in February rather than waiting until March 23 we might have avoided a national lockdown and that is why we need to take extra steps now.

“If we take the right measures now we can avoid another lockdown.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter