Health

Coronavirus: More than 100 outbreaks tackled a week, says Matt Hancock

An NHS alert message is seen on a street in LeicesterImage copyright Reuters
Image caption Leicester was placed under local lockdown two weeks ago, following a rise in coronavirus cases

“Targeted action” is being taken against more than 100 local outbreaks of coronavirus every week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Hancock said increased testing meant officials could now be “targeted” in their response.

His comments came after 73 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed at a farm in Herefordshire.

Around 200 workers there have been told to self-isolate.

It is now two weeks since Mr Hancock announced Leicester would be the first city in the UK to be put under a local lockdown. Restrictions are expected to be reviewed this week.

But he stressed that most measures to contain the coronavirus will not involve a whole city but instead centre on much smaller areas, even just one business or building – and he says these interventions often go unreported by the media and unnoticed by all except those directly involved.

The government strategy of targeted local responses whenever data suggests a coronavirus flare-up is a key part of its ongoing plan to reopen British businesses in different phases.

In the latest of these, beauty salons, spas, tattoo parlours and nail bars in the rest of England are welcoming back their first clients for almost four months, as national lockdown restrictions are eased.

In Scotland indoor shopping centres can reopen from Monday, while in Wales pubs, bars and restaurants can start serving customers outdoors and hairdressers can also reopen for business.

Image caption Around 200 workers are self-isolating at AS Green and Co following an outbreak there

In his article, Mr Hancock said more cases were being found through testing.

“The result is we can lift more of the lockdown and take targeted action,” he wrote.

“Each week, there are more than 100 local actions taken across the country – some of these will make the news but many more are swiftly and silently dealt with.”

Mr Hancock said England’s NHS Test and Trace service was helping the government understand how the virus was spreading “so we can hunt down coronavirus and keep it contained”.

The health secretary said there were now more than 250 testing centres and the government was also deploying a dozen walk-in testing centres.

“Where we find a cluster or outbreak, we send in extra testing, including mobile testing units that can be deployed anywhere in the country,” he added.

Clusters of cases in places such as hospitals, factories or schools can also be dealt with by closing the premises.

This has already happened in several parts of the UK, including a hospital in Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset and meat factories in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, and Wrexham and Anglesey.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The UK’s first full local lockdown was announced in Leicester at the end of June

Asked what counted as an outbreak during an interview on BBC Breakfast, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said each case would differ, adding “I think we know it when we see it.”

It could be when many individuals caught the virus in a particular area – such as a workplace, village or town, he said.

But pressed on whether the virus spreading outside of a household or social bubble would constitute an outbreak, Mr Buckland said: “I defer to the experts in this.

“They know what an outbreak constitutes when they see it, and I think with each one that we see we get more knowledgeable, more sophisticated, and are able to respond in ever more appropriate ways.”

According to Public Health England, an outbreak is when two or more laboratory confirmed cases are linked to a particular setting.

Also appearing on Breakfast, Leicester’s mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby said the lockdown there could have been prevented if local authorities had received testing data earlier.

He said after having “finally” been provided with “useful data”, they knew around 10% of the city had recorded a higher transmission of the virus.

“It’s very clear when you look at the data that it’s a couple of areas of the city that have got a higher than the average transmission of the virus, and certainly the way in which the city has been locked down in its entirety, and indeed beyond our boundary, is not justified,” he said.

“We should have been able to know this many, many weeks ago and we should have focused on those areas, preventing the transmission there.”

Leicester’s rate of new Covid-19 cases has fallen from its recent peak, according to figures from NHS England – but it is not a steady decline.

For example, the rate jumped from 115.1 cases per 100,000 people for the seven days to 4 July to 127.5 for the seven days to 5 July. It fell again to 115.4 in the week to 9 July.

This fluctuation could be because more testing means more cases are being picked up.

Under the government’s testing strategy, anyone with coronavirus symptoms should self-isolate and get a test. If someone tests positive they will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace, which will then contact any close contacts, who will also be told to self-isolate.

NHS Test and Trace only operates in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own contact tracing systems.

NHS Scotland has signed a new contract with biotech firm E&O Laboratories to supply a solution that can be placed in test tubes to help make samples of Covid-19 safe – allowing each sample to be tested as soon as it arrives at a lab and improving efficiency.

A further 650 coronavirus cases were reported across the UK on Sunday, according to the Department of Health.

The total number of people who have died with Covid-19 in the UK is now 44,819, a rise of 21 on the previous day – although figures tend to be lower at weekends because of reporting delays.


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https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-53386205

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