Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (High) (England) Regulations 2020 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:56 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 4:56 pm, 14th October 2020

My Lords, on Monday our local MP—I declare my local interests—told us all that we were in tier 2, so I signed up for this debate. Yesterday afternoon, we discovered that we might be going into tier 3 and everybody is arguing about it. What a shambles.

Whichever it is, the testing, tracing, tracking and isolating system is crucial. What do I mean? I mean maximum testing, whether people are symptomatic or not, and then rapid, quick contact of the positives. In many cases, local knowledge is needed to find these people and track them down. It has to be local people doing it, giving others advice on what to do and collecting information on their recent close contacts. That is the forward tracing, where the existing system is attempting to do it. You have to get to those contacts quickly. There is no point going to them a week later, which is often what happens. You have to give them the advice and follow up leads. Some of the contacts have leads to take you to more contacts. That, too, can only be done efficiently by local organisations and people.

The second sort of contact tracing that you have to do is backward tracing. The forward tracing is vital, but the backward tracing—investigating the source of infection—is, by and large, not being done. The amount of data that we have on it is entirely inadequate. The Minister said that 73% are household contacts. I am not sure what he means by that and I dispute what he said from the statistics that I have seen, but it depends what you mean, I suppose. It is necessary to find out where the primary contact in a household got it and to follow up workplaces, schools, streets, family leisure facilities, hospitality, shops and all the rest. Only local people with local knowledge can possibly begin to do this vital work and, unless you do that, you do not find out the primary sources of infection and you are not going to be able to stamp it out.

I think that schools are a time bomb waiting to explode. My view is that staff in schools should be tested weekly. Secondary school and sixth-form students should be tested in the same way, and the parents of children at primary school should all be offered tests. It is my belief, looking at the Lancashire statistics in great detail, that schools are an important source of the recent huge increases.

I do not think that the Government understand the systems of local government in two-tier areas. I have asked these questions before but have not had proper answers. The districts as well as the counties need the money and the powers to work with the counties to tackle this problem.