Track and trace vital to avoiding winter lockdown

Southend Council’s success in stopping a measles outbreak last year demonstrates how track and trace schemes will be vital to avoid a winter lockdown, a public health official has said.

More responsibility for the pandemic is being handed to councils, including oversight of track and trace schemes that will see authorities contacting anyone believed to have been in contact with individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Speaking during Southend’s Health and Wellbeing Board meeting on Wednesday, Krishna Ramkhelawon, director of public health for Southend, said the technique previously allowed the council to halt a measles outbreak in a matter of weeks.

He said: “This outbreak is now about preventing the virus from carrying on the spread. If it carries on spreading, we are likely to see another peak in the winter. It is not a secret that we could have another outbreak in the winter.

“For us, it is about managing what we are doing so we can get to a place where we are much, much stronger in reducing and suppressing this virus.

“At the end of last year, we had a measles outbreak in Southend and we started contact tracing then very, very quickly. Within two weeks we had stopped any further cases from happening. That is how important contact tracing is.”

How the council handles the virus going forward is set to be outlined in a new virus control plan which the government has said needs to be completed by the end of June.

Health and Wellbeing board members agreed on Wednesday to establish two new health committees that will oversee the decision making.

This includes the Outbreak Control Oversight Board, which will be a public facing group led by council members. It will report to the wellbeing board and answer questions over the key decisions that are made going forward.

A COVID-19 Health Protection Board will also be established and operated by the public health team. It will be this group that makes recommendations to the council and puts together the lockdown plans.

Mr Ramkhelawon explained the most immediate work will be on identifying and mitigating the risks associated with schools going back in September.

Council chief executive, Alison Griffin, called track and trace scheme “vital” in stopping the spread of the virus and explained the purpose of the new oversight board as being be able to respond to the spread of the virus and make decisions rapidly when needed.

Despite the board’s enthusiasm for track and trace, other councillors have said they are unsure how it will work. At the end of May, Southend’s deputy leader Independent councillor Ron Woodley said he does not believe it can work.

He said: “It will be okay if you have only been in contact within the bubble of people around you but if you have been to the beach where there could be 20,000 people on the High Street, how will you do it?”

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: [email protected]