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Boris Johnson’s government is preparing to hand greater responsibilities to find and communicate with people who may have coronavirus to councils in England, the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, has indicated.
Following a series of blunders surrounding the national test and trace scheme, the cabinet minister said local services were “bound to be better” than Whitehall or centralised contact tracers.
The move follows weeks of criticisms of the NHS test and trace programme, run from Whitehall, which last week admitted failing to register 16,000 Covid 19 cases due to what the prime minister called a “computing issue”.
Asked on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show if he would confirm reports that the government was preparing to give further powers to local authorities to track people who may have the disease, Jenrick said: “People who know their own community, particularly harder to reach communities, are bound to be better than Whitehall or national contact traces”.
“So we’re going to be supporting them to do that. I think they also want to have more flexibility, for example, over where testing sites might be located in their community. And we’ve also offered the resources like the armed forces to help them to do that. We’re going to the best possible working relationship between national and local government on tracing.”
His words appear to confirm claims first reported in the Sunday Times that the government will allow mayors and council leaders to deploy their own local volunteers to knock on doors and ask people to self-isolate.
The government has come under pressure to unveil further measures to support people and businesses hit by the economic downturn as a result of coronavirus.
Jenrick refused to be drawn on reports that new rules for a three-tier lockdown would be announced by the prime minister on Monday.
Sunday newspapers claimed that areas with relatively low infection levels would be placed in what is being described as tier 1, where only national restrictions such as the rule of six, a 10pm curfew on restaurants and pubs and existing rules on masks and social distancing would apply.
The next tier is likely to include bans on home visits and indoor socialising with other households in bars or restaurants.
Areas with the worst coronavirus outbreaks would be put in tier 3. Options being considered include the closure of all hospitality venues, a ban on overnight stays outside your own home and shutting leisure venues such as cinemas.
Asked if he would confirm reports of a three-tier strategy, Jenrick said: “I’m not going to answer that. It’s right that the prime minister informs the House of Commons what our strategy is.”
In a separate development, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, has denied claims that he broke the government’s Covid drinking curfew. The cabinet minister’s spokesman said allegations Hancock stayed drinking in a Commons bar beyond 10pm were untrue.
The comments came after the Mail on Sunday said the health secretary breached restrictions introduced by the government to halt the spread of the virus.
The newspaper reported Hancock arrived at the Commons bar shortly before a 9.40pm vote, ordered a glass of white wine and joked: “The drinks are on me – but Public Health England are in charge of the payment methodology so I will not be paying anything.”
Hancock’s reference to Public Health England came after he had addressed the Commons regarding the controversy over the organisation misplacing nearly 16,000 coronavirus test results.
The health secretary’s spokesman insisted the minister had not broken curfew rules. He said: “The proposed timeline of events is false and no rules have been broken. The secretary of state was in the smoking room prior to the vote that evening. The secretary of state left the smoking room to vote. The vote took place at 9.42pm.
“The secretary of state then departed the parliamentary estate to go home.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Councils in England set to get greater Covid tracing powers | World news