As the Government starts to release lockdown, seemingly against the recommendations of many of its advising scientists, Cambridgeshire County Council’s Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha has written to the County Council’s chief executive and Cambridgeshire & Peterborough’s Director of Public Health. She says:
“Given the sudden delegation by Government to local authorities of responsibility for Covid-19 track and trace, alongside the collapse of public trust in public health guidance arising out of Government’s condoning of lockdown transgressions by its own senior advisor, we seek answers to the following questions:
Is the council fully prepared to meet its new track and trace responsibility? What additional resources has the council received from government to meet its new obligations? Are these sufficient? What more is needed?
How widely across the council will new, additional track and trace responsibilities draw staff resource (including secondments from outside Public Health), and what will be the impact on other council functions and services?
The public will rightly expect clarity on the mechanics of track and trace systems, given the fundamental role of every community in playing its role in public health protection. We would expect answers to the following practical questions to be provided within the forthcoming Health Committee Covid-19 update.”
- How can the council help people keep up with rules that are complex and ever-changing with arbitrary dates attached, and which may vary from place to place?
- To what extent should we be telling people to apply common sense in making their own interpretation of the rules?
- How will members and the public be kept informed of local hot spots of Covid-19 in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, including all settings, as this information may influence their behavioural decisions including whether to send their children to school?
- What powers of local enforcement does the county council have?
- We are told that PHE is taking a leading role in tracking and tracing, and that the district councils are being mobilised to support this—to what extent does Cambridgeshire have the ability to allocate resources to make sure that the process operates effectively?
- What role does the Countywide Hub have in this?
- Do local authorities in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have the resource to play their part? What additional resource if any has been offered?
- What potential is there for overlap and confusion between national support and local track and trace identification of outbreaks, and how is it planned to resolve this?
- What instructions have been prepared for local community response groups which are playing a vital role on the ground?
- We are told that if the infection statistics move in the wrong direction then local tightening of lockdown rules is possible. Are we able to determine and direct this within our borders?
- Given the time lag between becoming infected and displaying symptoms how can we ensure that we can respond sufficiently quickly to any change?
- How will those responsible for monitoring statistics locally receive the necessary information from schools, workplaces, and care homes?
- How far will delays to the launch of the tracing app affect our ability to keep the R number down and reduce it further?
- What update do we have about the technical issues with the app which may render it ineffective in certain situations?
- Many people—including Jennifer Arcuri who ‘gave the Prime Minister IT lessons’—have said they will not download the app because of the unresolved security issues. To what extent will this reduce the effectiveness of the app?
- Take-up of the app will be low among certain groups anyway such as the elderly who are most at risk and may not have the right sort of phone. How will they be protected?
- SAGE has said that even if every adult with a smartphone downloaded and used the app, only 50 per cent of contacts would be identified. Is this enough to keep the virus down to manageable numbers?
- Who are the human tracers in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, are there enough of them, and is there a role for volunteers in this?
- Have enough human tracers been trained?
- Are human tracers already working and are they getting enough data to work with?
- To what extent is their work impaired by delays in getting test results returned?
- SAGE has said that keeping the R number below 1 would require 80 per cent of contacts to be found within 48 hours. How is this feasible?
- How are residents being advised to protect themselves against the inevitable scam callers pretending to be government ‘track and trace’ workers, and how can human tracers demonstrate their credentials other than simply by sounding plausible?
- Are there still problems accessing Covid-19 tests in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough?
- How quickly are test results being returned?
- A number of people nationally have reported tests being mislaid, or indeed being given the result of their test before the sample has been collected. How can the logistics of testing be improved?
- If a contact of an infected person is told to isolate for fourteen days, who covers their loss of earnings?
- Does the Government advice that from Monday 1 June ‘shielding’ residents may leave their homes mean that they will no longer be eligible for food boxes or priority for supermarket delivery slots?
- The removal of many previously ‘shielding’ people from the ‘shielding’ list presumably means that responsibility for assisting them will pass from the Countywide Hub to district hubs and local community groups. How is the council liaising with districts and communities to facilitate this handover? What problems are expected with this process and how will they be overcome?
- What plans are being made for staff moved to the Countywide Hub to return to their day jobs? How is the timing of this being optimised? Will there be the ability to recall staff to the Countywide Hub swiftly in the event of a significant escalation in cases?