York to launch its own test and trace system next week

Coronavirus testing at Heathrow Airport. Photograph: LHR Airports Limited

York’s public health team is launching its own test and trace system, because the national programme is tracing just 60 per cent of contacts of positive cases.

But when residents are asked to self isolate they are following the advice, the city’s director of public health revealed – saying there have been “no major problems” with people keeping to the guidance.

It is hoped an effective test and trace system delivered locally could help tackle the rising rate of positive cases across the city.

The council’s own system is due to be launched at the end of next week.

It will work alongside the national programme and only be available from Monday to Friday at first – as the council has only been given “minimal resources” from Government for the scheme.

But Sharon Stoltz, director of public health, said the team is hoping to recruit more contact tracers and expand the service.

She said: “The improvements that need to be made to the national test and trace service – I won’t call it NHS because it’s not delivered by the NHS it’s delivered by commercial partners – is that it needs to work.

“And it needs to work very effectively.

“At the moment only about 60 per cent of contacts of positive cases in York are being traced through the national system.

“Obviously that isn’t good enough – if we’re going to be able to halt the spread of infection that needs to be as close to 100 per cent as we can possibly get it.”

Control the spread

Under the scheme, people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive will receive a call from an 0300 telephone number from the national test and trace team.

If the national service is unable to make contact for any reason, the local team will then work to contact residents – at first through the GOV.UK Notify system which uses emails, text messages and letters to reach people.

Staff in York are currently being trained to use the systems and more contact tracer roles are due to be advertised.

Ms Stoltz said: “We are having to do this with minimal additional resources from government.

“So we’re a bit limited as to what we can do but we’ll certainly be working hard to put a robust contact tracing service in for York, that I’m sure will be a valuable addition to our efforts as a whole city to be able to control the spread of the virus.”

Asked by a resident at the Q&A session if people were following advice to self isolate, she added: “We don’t think this is a major problem in York of people not self-isolating when they’ve been advised to, but please do get get in touch if you’re aware of that. There there is quite a lot of support that the council are putting in for people who are self-isolating.”

Council leader Keith Aspden added that more testing capacity is also needed, saying: “It’s only if we do a real proper job of test and trace that we can really work together to protect communities and businesses.”

Ms Stoltz said the team has been asking Government for a local test and trace system in York and the plans have recently been approved.

She added that more information will be available soon and urged people to download the NHS Covid-19 app and follow the coronavirus guidance.

There also needs to be timely reporting of test results so people need to be receiving their test results within 24 hours.

“There’s a very clear 48-hour window to try to identify those people that are at risk of infection and to ask them to self-isolate.”

She said contacts only need to get a test if they develop symptoms.