An Oxfordshire campaign with national relevance
Crush Covid is calling for testing and tracing to be put back into the hands of local public health teams. We are working at a local level to persuade city and district councils to pass motions calling on their county council to run test and trace themselves. Proper government funding is needed for this. Crush Covid is based in Oxfordshire, but we hope to inspire and assist people all over England.
Covid-19 has deprived us of our usual way of life, prevented children and young people from pursuing their education, taken away jobs, stopped businesses from making money, and caused chronic ill-health in many of those who have recovered from it. Over 80,000 people have died in the UK so far.
However, there is a way we can get back to normal. We need a comprehensive strategy based around a local test and trace system run by the public sector, principally the public health teams belonging to our county and metropolitan councils.
Vaccinations should be part of a wider plan
A vaccination programme is a key part of our defence against the virus, but it will be many months before sufficient numbers of people are vaccinated and we can all be safe. to be really effective, it needs to be complemented by other measures. These include restrictions on travel, special arrangements for schools and universities, and support for businesses and workplaces. We also need to test people, including those who don’t have symptoms, then trace their contacts as soon as possible and require them to self-isolate before they can infect others.
Find, Test, Trace and Support to Isolate
At the end of 2020, Independent SAGE called on the Government to implement a five-point plan in which this approach is central. To be effective in eliminating the virus, we need a system that involves finding cases, which means hunting down the virus and testing asymptomatic people as well as those with symptoms, tracing all their contacts, requiring them to isolate fully for ten days, and supporting them to do so. Find, test, trace and support to isolate is the system advocated by Independent SAGE, a group of eminent scientists and public health experts.
Testing and tracing should be done by local public health teams
In the past, when an infectious disease appeared in a community, it was dealt with by public health officials, who would be in touch with the patient to advise them and anyone who had been contact with them on what to do. Nowadays, each county council has a director of public health, whose responsibility it is to protect the public from such diseases. The director of public health has the expertise, experience and personnel to run a testing and tracing programme. Their staff have local knowledge and specialist training. They are in touch with other professionals, such as GPs, environmental health officers and social workers.
The Government has given billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to private companies
Instead of giving local public health teams enough money to build up their test and trace systems, the Government has given billions of pounds to private companies with no relevant experience, such as Serco, Sitel and Deloitte, to run so-called ‘NHS Test and Trace’, whose misleading name obscures the fact that it is not run by the NHS. The money allocated to these private companies so far would be enough to pay for the running of all the GPs’ surgeries in England for two years.
A proper test and trace system will stop the virus from mutating
The Government’s current aim is to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed. However, we need to suppress this virus altogether, and we can do that by backing up the vaccination programme with a proper test and trace system. For one thing, the more the virus continues to circulate, the more opportunities it will have to mutate. This could produce forms of the virus that are resistant to the vaccines currently available and make the vaccines ineffective. However, if levels of transmission are greatly reduced, and new outbreaks are rapidly suppressed using local testing and tracing, we will be able to go about our daily lives again, confident that we are safe.
Vaccination prevents symptoms, not transmission
The vaccines developed so far protect the individuals vaccinated, by stopping them from developing symptoms, but, as far as we know, those people might still be able to catch the virus and pass it on to others. They will be safe, but the people they come into contact with may not. Only a programme of proper public health measures, with test and trace at its core, will protect us, by suppressing the virus.
Those in self-isolation should be supported
Compliance with self-isolation currently is lower than 20 per cent, which explains in part why the virus is still spreading. Lack of financial and other support has contributed to this, and some people are avoiding being tested because they can’t afford to self-isolate. Those required to self-isolate should be offered support, including moral and financial support, and help with separate accommodation if necessary. GPs should be informed if a test is positive so that they can provide tailored advice and medical care, particularly to those with pre-existing conditions. Health workers and practice nurses could follow this up with daily phone calls, in order to monitor symptoms.
How to stop this inefficiency and malpractice
Join us in calling for your taxes to go to the NHS and public health teams, not to private companies and overpaid consultants.
To find out more about how to get your local council to pass a cross-party motion supporting local test and trace, download a copy of the motion passed by Oxford City Council or a copy of the speech given by a member of the public at the meeting at which the motion was passed
What would a local test and trace system look like?
It would be co-ordinated NHS England and run by directors of public health.
Ask your MP to demand proper funding for local, public test and trace from Matt Hancock
Letter to your MP (you can download the letter here). The letter can be changed, added to, as you wish.
What the experts say
Watch these short videos of experts explaining why local test and trace is best and how we can push for it.
Professor Allyson Pollock is Director of the Newcastle Centre for Excellence in Regulatory Science.
Councillor Katherine Tyson, Cherwell District Council, Liberal Democrat.
Dr Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini, consultant anaesthetist and councillor on Oxford City Council, Labour Party.
Ian Middleton, Cherwell District Councillor, Green Party
Dr Helen Salisbury, prominent Oxford GP and broadcaster.
The Oxford Astra/Zeneca Vaccine
The Jenner Institute is the vaccine research institute in Oxford where the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was developed.
Dr Flavia Occhibove, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Eco-Epidemiological Modelling at the Jenner Institute
Further information and useful links
Independent SAGE A group of scientists and experts, whose blueprint for a properly funded Find, Test, Trace and Support to Isolate system is widely supported, including by Crush Covid.
Article by Prof. Stephen Reicher of Independent SAGE explaining why it’s not enough to wait for the vaccine and setting out the five-point plan proposed by Independent SAGE.
Independent SAGE’s blueprint for an excellent testing and tracing system.
Zero Covid A campaign to suppress Covid nationally.
What could a good locally run test and trace system do?
It could deploy fast tests in specific situations. Read more