Burnham: Government will need to consider trade-offs if Test and Trace is not “fixed”
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has warned that the government may need to consider trade-offs such as closing pubs to allow schools to reopen safely if the NHS Test and Trace system is not “fixed urgently”.
Official figures suggest that only 53 per cent of close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases in Greater Manchester have been successfully traced.
If it cannot be rectified, the region’s mayor has suggested that the government must consider trade-offs such as shutting pubs to allow for the safe reopening of schools, which the government has already outlined as a priority.
Burnham said: "There is a growing amount of evidence that pubs are one of the main places where this virus spreads."
A rise in cases within parts of the north west and Yorkshire has seen some lockdown restrictions reintroduced with residents unable to mix with people from other households indoors and in private gardens, other than those in their support bubbles. Pubs in affected regions have been allowed to remain open.
Burnham told the BBC that the government’s contact-tracing rate in the Greater Manchester region was “nowhere near good enough” and that pubs and schools could not be open simultaneously in a safe manner with such a “level of performance”.
Burnham echoed calls from other areas for the government to hand “more direct powers” to local authorities to close venues where safety procedures are not being adhered to.
He said: "This NHS test-and-trace system currently is not good enough to go into a winter with no treatment or vaccine, and the sad thing is it'll be our poorest communities that are most exposed.
"We have got August to fix this test-and-trace system… and if we haven't then I think there is a real possibility that we will have to close the pubs."
Burnham called on the government to provide additional funding to local authorities so that contact tracing could be carried out on a more regional level, which he felt would be more effective than what he called the “national call centre system” currently in place.
Indeed, the public health director in the Lancashire town of Blackburn has said the area is “already seeing benefits” after establishing its own council operated tracing network.
Burnham’s concerns have been backed up by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Professor Chris Bonell, after a Lancet study estimated that only half of the close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases across England were being traced successfully.
Minister for regional growth and local government, Simon Clarke, has defended the Test and Trace system, saying that government figures indicate a much higher success rate.
Over the weekend, prime minister Boris Johnson reiterated the government’s pledge to get all children back into school in September, calling it a “moral duty”.