As lockdown restrictions are eased in Bristol, early evidence suggests the government’s ‘track and trace’ program is not reaching enough people to be effective. The Leader of Bristol’s Green Councillor Group called on the government to change its top-down approach as a matter of urgency and work with local experts in order to prevent a second spike in cases.
Bristol’s Green Councillors have responded with dismay to news that the government’s contact tracing regime failed to reach around a third of those who tested positive in its first week of operation. That in turn means that, nationally, thousands of people who had been exposed were not told, and may have unwittingly spread the virus further.
At the beginning of May the leader of Bristol’s Green group, Councillor Eleanor Combley, called for a local track and trace program to be run by Bristol Council using local health experts and volunteer networks. Similar calls for a local-led rather than top-down approach have been made by UK public health experts. More recently critics have contrasted the UK’s complicated and centrally-managed response with the successful response of countries such as Germany. The government has come under fire for focusing on a mobile phone app first, managing data centrally, and outsourcing testing and contact tracing to the private sector rather than working with local public health systems.
Councillor Combley praised the response of Bristolians to the pandemic and the effective local health teams which have managed to contain outbreaks in the city. She said:
“People in Bristol have responded so amazingly to the need to socially distance and to self-isolate if they or their household have symptoms, and it is important that we keep on doing that, to protect ourselves and each other. Our local public health teams have shown they are able to control outbreaks. As a result, Bristol is now only seeing a trickle of new cases each day, and I really believe, with effective test – trace – isolate we could get this virus under control and allow safe reopening of businesses and schools.”
However the Green Councillor said Bristol was being ‘let down’ by the Government’s response, and called for contact tracers to work in regional teams. She said:
“Boris Johnson’s Conservative government is letting us down. They have lost people’s trust by failing to follow their own rules, and then lying to us to avoid the consequences. They have recruited contact tracers, but they won’t allow them to work with the skilled professional teams we have locally, who do have trust, and who really understand how to stop an outbreak of infection in its tracks. Instead of using our public health experts they have pushed through a private sector solution that may not work properly for months. This top-down, outsourced approach is beginning to look dangerously incompetent.
“For now of course it’s important everyone works with the system we’ve got – but it has to be brought up to scratch quickly. Government should let contact tracers work in regional teams, supervised and supported by local public health professionals, and together we can stop the virus and open up life in Bristol again.”