People must be ready to adhere to test and trace to stop coronavirus spread, says public health director

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

It will be crucial that Norfolk people telephoned and told to self isolate, when a new test and tracing system begins, do so if the spread of coronavirus is to be controlled, the county’s director of public health has urged.

Norfolk has been handed a key role over coronavirus test and tracing. Picture: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Norfolk has been handed a key role over coronavirus test and tracing. Picture: BRITTANY WOODMAN - Credit: Archant

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.

While the specifics of how that will work are still being finalised, Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk County Council’s director of public health, said people will need to pay heed if they are called by contract tracers to say they need to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Speaking at a virtual meeting of the council’s scrutiny committee, she said: “The likelihood is that we won’t see a vaccine for at least a year, so the strategy going forward is testing and tracing.

“That will involve isolating people who have tested positive and then phoning those who have been in contact with them, getting them to isolate and getting them tested.

“Testing and tracing is still being developed. We are still in the very early days of developing what the model will look like.”

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But she said a local outbreak control plan should be ready by the end of June - with national and local contact tracers to staff the track, trace and test system.

She said: “It is going to be something which could affect anyone in the general public. It’s about trying to trace how the virus hops from person to person and to get people to isolate to prevent that spread.

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“The way we think it will work, is that people will be asked to go on to a website to share their information. There will be national and regional control centres, and the contact tracers will phone people up.”

She said that local teams could need to get involved if people could not be contacted by phone, or had particularly complex situations, such as homeless people.

The council will be sharing data on the spread of the virus through the Joint Biosecurity Centre, to help plan to deal with local outbreaks.

Labour councillor Emma Corlett asked if that could lead to specific lockdowns of streets, postcode areas or villages, but Dr Smith said the strategy was not yet developed enough for her to give an answer.

Labour councillor Dr Chris Jones asked what sort of planning was being done for the longer term.

He said: “We have heard a lot of people saying do this or that for the three months. The reality is that we might have to do this for 20 years.”

Dr Smith said: “There are lots of unknowns. We do not really definitively know how many people infected develop symptoms. We think its 15 to 20pc, but we do not definitively know.

“We don’t know if everybody develops antibodies, or if that leads to immunity and, if so, how long that lasts.” But she said a lot of work was being done to develop treatments and a vaccine.

Dr Jones asked whether a vaccine would ever be developed, given none had been found for the common cold and Dr Smith replied: “That’s a fair comment.”

Other subjects discussed during the meeting included why there had been more cases in the west of the county, how reliable the data being used is, when weddings might be able to be held again and how Norfolk had to get personal protective equipment from China, when the national supply chain failed.

Following the meeting, Steffan Aquarone, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, repeated his call for an independent inquiry to look at how Norfolk has responded to the virus.

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