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Schools or pubs: a Covid dilemma - Alan Bacon

August 28, 2020 3:05 PM
By Alan Bacon in Your Chesham

Alan BaconCovid-19 isn't going away. As I write this in the middle of August, the number of new cases is increasing again, the highest number since June. Who knows whether there will be a serious second wave in the winter?

Everything we open up after the lockdown risks increasing the number of cases. Some of the government's scientific advisers even argue that if we want to open up schools it may be necessary to close down pubs and restaurants again. I'm sure that's not a choice that the government wants to make, but they might have to. We have already seen local lockdowns in a number towns and cities, such as Leicester.

Let's hope there is a vaccine in the not too distant future, but in the meantime our best hope of riding out the pandemic lies in testing, then tracking and tracing. This is something which nearly all the scientists agree on, but as with so much else about this virus, the UK has not so far been spectacularly successful.

For various reasons, there has never been enough testing, and in March the government took the disastrous decision to stop community testing altogether just as the disease was really getting out of control. The testing eventually restarted but we still need more.

The next problem has been tracking and tracing. Once someone has tested positive for coronavirus, we need to find the people they have been in contact with and isolate them, otherwise the disease spreads. But we are not doing well at this either.

The government set up an incredibly chaotic system involving outsourcing companies Serco and US giant Sitel, as well as Public Health England and councils, who are responsible for public health in their areas.

This complicated system of tracking and tracing has not been working well because it hasn't been properly integrated. At last, though, it appears that things are changing, and from 24 August, national call centre staff are being split into local teams linked to local councils.

Let's hope this works much better. We need to make sure that it works well here in Buckinghamshire. Then maybe we can reopen schools without also having to close down pubs or anything else.

This letter was originally published in Your Chesham, no. 120, September 2020.