Is it time to scrap or amend isolation rules around Covid test and trace?

We need a robust, locally-led test and trace system

Is it time to scrap Test and Trace? - Credit: Archant

It could be nearing time to scrap or amend the way the Covid-19 test and trace system forces people to self-isolate, a Norfolk expert in infectious diseases has said - as pubs and restaurants are hit by staff shortages.

Zaks and The Wildman in Norwich are among venues which have had to temporarily close, after staff were told by the NHS Test and Trace app they had been in contact with someone who tested positive.

And there are growing calls for the government to shift to a testing system which monitors whether staff are still negative, so they can keep working.

Prof Paul Hunter, from the UEA, has encouraged people to donate to the WHO's Covid-19 Response Fund

Prof Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. - Credit: UEA

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said, should the July 19 end of restriction go ahead, then test and trace ought to be ended or amended.

He said: "I think, at the moment, with schools being open and the Euros being on, that's enough to be getting on with at the moment.

"But I think, once we have got to July 19, we have done as much as we can do.

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"The virus is not going away. It's here to stay, but the way we have got vaccines rolled out, we are in the best possible position we have been.

"After July 19, I'd not do any isolation of school children or be closing restaurants. I'm not even sure I would isolate contacts, although I would still isolate people with symptoms.

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"The one issue is how you'd differentiate between people who have had double vaccinations and those who have not.

"I could, sort of, see a case to be made that if you are a contact and have not had both vaccinations, then you should still be made to isolate."

People who have been in close contact with somebody who has tested positive for Covid-19 are currently alerted by text, email or phone call.

They then have to self-isolate for 10 days from their last contact  - even if they have no symptoms.

If people record negative tests, they still have to complete the full 10 days.

Ian Hacon and Chris Carr are bringing back the Zaks caravan. Pic: EDP

Owners of Zaks, Ian Hacon and Chris Carr - Credit: Archant

UKHospitality, the national body which represents pubs and restaurants is calling on the government to reconsider the rules on isolation, so people can keep working if they test negative.

Visit Norwich/Norwich Bid Governing Board, Feb 2020

Stefan Gurney of Norwich BID - Credit: Hannah Hutchins 2020

And Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District, said: "My feeling is that test and trace will be one of the revisions which will come out from Boris Johnson in the next couple of weeks.

"We are hearing in conversations with public health that they are looking to less isolation, but more that, if you are in contact with someone, then you will have more lateral flow testing and, if you do test positive, then you'd get a PCR test."

Case rates in Norfolk for the seven days up to Friday, June 25, showed there were 26.7 cases per 100,000 people - up just over 55pc on the 17.2 per 100,000 over the previous week.

That remains below the national average, but the rate has been climbing in recent weeks and experts say they will continue to go up.

Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk. Picture: Norfolk County Council

Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health, this week urged people to get twice weekly tests.

She said, with case rates in Norfolk doubling roughly every 12 days, this was not the time to stop test and trace.

She said: "Every case we find and get somebody to self isolate means two fewer cases in 12 days and four fewer cases in 24 days.

"Preventing those cases still seems worth it for now, as we have a very narrow window of opportunity in Norfolk to flatten the curve."

But Dr Smith said she had sympathy with the situation businesses such as pubs and restaurants were experiencing.

She said there was a debate within public health as to what happens if the government goes ahead with ending restrictions.

Dr Smith said the definition of what constitutes a close contact might be changed.

She said whether people have been vaccinated could play a role in if they have to self-isolate and rapid tests could be used in a different way so those who test negative would not need to self-isolate.

She said: "There are pilots being done and it may well be that the evidence is there so we can do that."

'It is time consuming, on top of everything else'

Victoria MacDonald, who runs The Cellarhouse in Eaton and the Old Ram at Tivetshall St Mary, said she would be delighted if test and trace were to be scrapped.

Landlady at the Cellar House pub at Eaton, Victoria Macdonald, with the Bar Team of the Year award t

Victoria MacDonald, who runs The Cellarhouse in Eaton. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

She said: "Our customers have been very good about it and we do take their details, but it is time consuming on top of everything else. It does take up staff time.

"We were very disappointed when the restrictions were not ended on June 21, so I welcome what Paul Hunter has said."

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