Blackburn council sets up own contact tracing system blaming Government failure

4 August 2020, 13:42

Mobile testing units have been set up in Blackburn amid a spike in cases
Mobile testing units have been set up in Blackburn amid a spike in cases. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

A council under local lockdown has launched its own contact-tracing system, pinning blame at the Government for a failed national scheme.

Blackburn and Darwen Council, which has the highest rate of coronavirus cases in Britain, has deployed officers to contact those infected with Covid-19 if the national system fails to do so within two days of their positive test result.

The borough is home to some of the 4.5 million people under sweeping new curbs in Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and West Yorkshire following a spike in cases. 

The promised “world-beating” national NHS contact tracing app has returned to the drawing board and could still be months away after ministers wasted £12 million on an ineffective system

"The national system is simply not tracing enough cases and contacts fast enough," Dominic Harrison, director of public health and wellbeing at the council, said.

Officials in Blackburn and Darwen have set up their own contact tracing system
Officials in Blackburn and Darwen have set up their own contact tracing system. Picture: PA

Blackburn with Darwen remains the worst-hit in the country but the rate has fallen slightly from 81.9 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to July 24 to 77.9 in the seven days to July 31. A total of 116 new cases have been recorded.

Oldham is in second place, where the seven-day rate has increased from 52.6 to 58.1, with 137 new cases, latest official data shows. 

Bradford is third, where the rate has risen from 48.2 to 53.1, with 285 new cases.

Under the Blackburn system, residents who have tested positive will have their details passed to the local service if they haven't been contacted by the national system after two days.

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If the local team cannot get through to the resident by email, text or phone after another 48 hours, officials will visit the infected person and give details of who they can call.

Paul Fleming, who is heading up the Blackburn app, said: “Test and trace is a vital part of the national strategy to get the virus under control. It is even more vital in areas like ours where we have a rising tide of cases. 

“Our system complements the national system because we have the local knowledge of the area and the ability to send officers round to people’s addresses. Our system is also beneficial because we can refer those who need to isolate to local support services if necessary.

“Our system has already gone live and we are already seeing its benefits as we have managed to contact people the national system couldn’t.”

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It comes as the Government admitted that laws underpinning new lockdown restrictions for Greater Manchester, parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire are yet to be implemented four days after the rules were introduced.

Guidance published on Friday stated that it would be against the law for people from different households to meet in a private home or garden - unless they are part of a support bubble - and warned of £100 fines for those who flout the rules. Officials said the laws were due to be signed off and published later that night.

But on Monday afternoon the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed it was yet to implement laws bringing the rules into force.

It said it was trying to make the changes legally enforceable as soon as possible but insisted the rules still applied from 31 July.

When asked by the PA news agency why there was a delay and on what legal basis the rules were currently being enforced, the department refused to comment.

Meanwhile, Sandwell Council in the Midlands has also established its own contact-tracing system to prevent local outbreaks, following a rise in cases. 

The authority’s deputy leader, Councillor Maria Crompton, said: “Our officers are doing extra contact tracing to complement the government’s test and trace service.

“Testing has been ramped up, with mobile testing units placed within the heart of the communities most affected by the pandemic. We have also commissioned a community swabbing team with the capacity to test over 100 people a day in an outbreak situation.

“All businesses have been written to with an offer of our 7-day response outbreak response service which can offer immediate specialist support if positive cases arise in their workforce or customers.”