Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 6:00 pm, 14th October 2020

It is nearly nine months since the first case of covid came to my constituency and, in that first instance, we had an effective test and trace system. But my goodness, what has happened since? We know from across the world that effective test and tracing is beating the virus but here in the UK the virus is beating us. That is why it is essential that we get on top of the essential ingredients of an effective test and trace system. Filling the pockets of all these private companies with contract after contract is failing, and we know why that has been done—the lack of investment in our NHS and in public health for years. That has meant that they are bereft of the resources they need.

We need to turn this round and we have the opportunity of this debate to address the issue effectively. We know from the statistics that my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves set out earlier that, if about two thirds of people who have been tested are then transferred to the contact tracing system, only 17% of them are reached. That means that fewer than half the people are effectively contact traced. That simply is not good enough in the midst of this pandemic. Time is of the essence and we need to address this now Any transfer that we see to local authorities must also see the transfer of resources. We cannot just see the transfer of risk without the money coming with it to back it up and enable local authorities to run effective systems locally.

I have talked to my local director of public health and she has led an excellent fight to put the case not only for local testing but for saying where we need the centres to be. We need another testing centre in York and we have been working with the university and a local lab to prove that we have a test processing and trace system for our city. That is what we need for a fast turnaround of results. Time is of the essence with this virus and the faster we get the results, the faster we trace people who are potentially carrying the virus. We will then be able to lock the virus down, which is what we want to do.

I am confused, and I am sure I am not the only one, as to why York today is in tier 1 when the infection rate there is higher than in some of the places in tier 3. It does not make sense. I want the Minister to explain the rationale for that. Yesterday, there were 95 infections in York, and 246.4 per 100,000 and growing fast. We need to understand the rationale, not least because the infection is transmitting in our city and we know that because we have been holding a mirror tracing system that has seen it go from household to household. Yet tier 1 does not bar such contact. If we are really serious about understanding how to stop the virus, we need to go through the proper processes and involve the local directors of public health who could tell the Government that we need the controls to stop the spread at this critical time before it gets completely out of control.

It is because of the failures that I have described that the Labour party has been saying that there will be a need for a circuit break. If the Government could respond with proper measures, we would not need it. The Government only need look in the mirror to see why we are in this place.

Some incredible science is being done in our universities and local labs, and I look forward to my meeting on Friday with the Minister on what is being done in York, where the capacity, efficiency and effectiveness of testing can seriously outstrip many of those procured labs which the Minister and her Government have already engaged in.

This is a real opportunity. We have to use the best science, and I trust that we will be able to do so.