Norfolk has been named as one of 11 pilot areas which will play a key role in the government’s efforts to use testing and tracing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Eastern Daily Press: Health minister Nadine Dorries. Pic: PA WireHealth minister Nadine Dorries. Pic: PA Wire (Image: Archant)

And council leaders say that will be a vital step in helping people in the county return to their day to day lives.

Councils will get a share of £300m to help develop and put in place plans to reduce the spread of the virus and control outbreaks.

The Department of Health and Social Care today announced that each local authority will be given cash to come up with tailored outbreak control plans, working with the NHS and others.

The plans will focus on identifying and containing potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, housing complexes, care homes and schools.

Eastern Daily Press: Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella WilkinsonLouise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson (Image: Archant)

As part of this work, Norfolk County Council will need to make sure testing is effectively done in high-risk locations. It will work closely with the national Test and Trace service - which includes the roll out of a mobile phone application - local NHS and other partners to do that.

Test and tracing will mean people are tested for coronavirus, the spread of the virus tracked, then tracing the people with whom an infected person has come into contact.

The council will be shared data on the spread of the virus through the Joint Biosecurity Centre, to help plan to deal with local outbreaks, so teams understand how the virus is moving, working with national government where necessary to access the testing and tracing capabilities of the new service.

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk’s director of public health, said: “Contact tracing is a proven, effective method of controlling the spread of infectious disease in countries around the world, and I welcome the opportunity to bring that approach to Norfolk to tackle coronavirus.

Eastern Daily Press: Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil PerryAndrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry (Image: Archant)

“We will respond to any local outbreak as a community, and the plans we’ll be drawing up will reflect that need to work together.”

Communities, organisations and individuals in Norfolk will also be encouraged to follow government guidance and help those self-isolating in their area.

That will include encouraging neighbours to offer support and identifying and working with community groups.

Andrew Proctor, Norfolk County Council leader, said: “We’re delighted than Norfolk has been chosen as a pilot for the test and trace service: robust, comprehensive plans to deal with local outbreaks of COVID-19 are key to allowing our residents to live their lives out of lockdown, and it’s wonderful that Norfolk has the opportunity to be among the first in the country to develop these.”

And Tom McCabe, who chairs Norfolk’s strategic co-ordination group and is the council’s head of paid service, said the move would help people get back to their day to day lives.

He said: “Being a pilot for the Test and Trace Service is a great opportunity for Norfolk: these plans will be vital to allow our residents to return to their day to day lives, confident that any cases of Covid 19 will be swiftly brought under control. There’s a lot of work to do to draw up our plans, but we’re eager to get started.”

Nadine Dorries, minister for patient safety, suicide prevention and mental health, said: “Local authorities will be vital in the effort to contain COVID-19 at a community level.

“The pandemic requires a national effort but that will only be effective as a result of local authorities, working hand in hand with Public Health England and contact tracers to focus on the containment of local outbreaks, in order to control the transmission and the spread of the virus.

“For contact tracing to be effective when it is rolled out, we will need people to continue to follow guidelines and stay at home if they have symptoms.”

The government says the Norfolk efforts will support the national rollout of the test and trace service.

National test and trace advisor and chief executive of Leeds City Council, Tom Riordan, said: “It is essential that communities and local authorities are at the heart of our plans to rollout test and trace.

“Their work to respond to the virus has been exemplary, demonstrating how people across the country have come together to respond to the virus.

“As we move forward with our plans to trace every case of the virus, and contact those at risk, we will need to continue to work together and tailor support at a local level.

“This joint endeavour between local government, the NHS and local partners will help those in self-isolation, and reduce the risk of widespread outbreaks in our schools, businesses, hospitals and communities.”

A new National Local Government Advisory Board will be established to work with the Test and Trace Service. This will include sharing best practice between communities across the country.

Work to share lessons learnt will be led by a group of 11 councils, including Norfolk County Council, which had volunteered to help localise planning.

The money Norfolk will get will be ring-fenced. Norfolk County Council will be working with Norwich and districts Breckland, Broadland, Great Yarmouth West Norfolk, North Norfolk and South Norfolk.

Scientists from Norwich Research Park had put forward ambitious plans for Norwich to be a pilot city for weekly testing and tracing for coronavirus.

While scientists say they are still pursuing that idea, the government has said it has no immediate plans for citywide testing.