Blocks of flats, residential streets and town centres could be hit with local lockdowns if a spike in coronavirus cases are linked to them, meetings at Greenwich and Bexley councils have been told.
The neighbouring councils have both held health and wellbeing board meetings in recent days to discuss their roles in the government’s “test and trace” system, which is meant to identify and stamp out new outbreaks of Covid-19.
While the two councils welcomed the new system, they said there was a lack of clarity about what they are expected to do when the system is fully rolled out.
Health and wellbeing boards bring together councillors and local NHS representatives, including from GP surgeries and hospital trusts.
Greenwich Council’s director of public health, Steve Whiteman, said the test and trace programme “is likely to be around for some time”. “It’s not a here today, gone tomorrow initiative,” he told last Friday’s meeting.
He said test and trace would introduce a “systematic process” for identifying and contacting recent close contacts of someone who tests positive for the virus.
While there is not currently a phone app as part of the programme, it was “quite likely” one will be added eventually, Mr Whiteman said.
While 25,000 NHS and call centre staff recruited to implement the system, the exact role of local authorities in supporting the scheme remains ambiguous.
Bexley’s director of public health Dr Anjan Ghosh acknowledged while “the logic for it is quite persuasive”, the execution remains “a bit unclear right now”. He said it was “the only tool we have to do a safe and risk mitigated way of easing the lockdown” and would result in the isolation of “the few … in order to liberate the many”.
Ghosh told Tuesday’s meeting there was little information on local lockdowns could be implemented, but he explained they would likely be brought in for “hotspots” such as for specific streets, buildings, or even a high street where an outbreak is recorded. (Watch video of the meeting)
Both Greenwich and Bexley’s meetings heard that councils will have to play a leading role in supporting vulnerable people in locked-down areas, ensuring those isolating have access to food, medicines or other essentials.
Ghosh said Bexley would play an important role in supporting the lockdown using “our powers of persuasion … and guidance”.
The meetings also heard details about how close local services came to being overrun during the peak of the pandemic across the Easter weekend in April.
Val Davison, the chair of the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, said there was about 150 coronavirus patients at that time across Lewisham Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, as their intensive care units swelled to three times their usual capacity.
She said cases had dropped steadily since than, with just four new cases recorded on June 11 across both hospitals, compared to 350 six weeks earlier.
Both Greenwich’s Labour leader Danny Thorpe and his counterpart in Bexley, the Conservative Teresa O’Neill, praised the amount of work their staff and health services had undertaken in the past few months, with O’Neill calling it a “phenomenal achievement”.
“We were all pushed into it but reality what has been achieved over that period has been absolutely phenomenal,” she said, adding that partners had a “tremendous debt of gratitude from all Bexley residents”.
Lachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich and Bexley. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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