Government should support enough testing to enable future timely responses to Covid surges

22 February 2022, Tamara Sandoul

CIEH has responded to the Prime Minister’s announcement to end all COVID-19 restrictions in England. CIEH is calling for robust surveillance to continue and enough testing to enable the detection of new variants and surges in infection, as well as financial support and continued official advice for those who test positive with COVID-19 to self-isolate.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced his ‘Living with COVID-19' plan yesterday. The announcement includes plans to end all remaining restrictions in England. This includes ending the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test. Self-isolation support payments will also end but provisions for statutory sick pay will remain for another month. All routine contact tracing will cease as well as the requirement for close contacts who have not been vaccinated to self-isolate. The Government has also announced that guidance for staff and students to have twice weekly testing in education and childcare settings will be removed.

From 1 April, there will be an end to all free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public. Most vulnerable people will instead be supported with targeted vaccination and treatments, including boosters for over 75s and for over 12s who are immunosuppressed in the Spring.

In a joint statement, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) said the post-COVID strategy must include funding for local public health teams to manage outbreaks in their areas. The Contain Outbreak Management Fund (COMF) has provided local authorities in England with £400m to support local public health but is due to end at the end of next month. Councils and public health directors are calling for this funding to be extended to help tackle new variants.

On 15 February, ADPH also published an explainer document: Living Safely and Fairly with COVID-19. This to help shape a longer-term approach to managing the virus which would enable education, society, and the economy to operate more normally.

Jim McManus, Vice President of the CIEH, said:

“We need to retain a surveillance system and enough testing to detect new variants and surges in infection. We have this in place for every other infectious disease of note and we should also have it for Covid-19. If a new variant emerges or a surge in infection comes, knowing that will be vital to plan for changes to vaccines as well as other key responses to prevent serious disease, disruption and death.

“While government may be removing the self-isolation rule, we need to be clear the advice remains for people who have good reason to believe that they are infected with Covid-19, to self-isolate. We also need to ensure that sick pay and other benefits support this.  Otherwise, we risk rising infections and undermining the progress we have made.

“Government needs to continue some of the local funding streams to ensure that key expertise is retained in local authorities and they can continue to respond to future outbreaks. Local authority powers are insufficient without some dedicated resource to control the spread of infection.”

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