As Croydon’s coronavirus alert status was raised to “High” yesterday, Rachel Flowers, the council’s director of public health, wrote to the borough’s 70 councillors appealing for their help in getting the correct information to residents.
In common with public health officials at local authorities across England, though, Flowers’ work to try to reduce and contain the spread in the “second spike” of the pandemic has not been helped by bungling central government and its misfiring smartphone app and poorly performing test and trace system.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised six months ago that they would deliver a “world-beating” test and trace system and app. Yet by September, when school pupils began to return to their classrooms after lockdown, the track and trace system was still not operating and the government’s initial app was junked after it failed in development tests.
But the contact-tracing app which was released three weeks ago is now causing confusion: after the raising of the alert level across London at midnight on Friday, there were multiple reports of people in the same room being sent different alert levels on Saturday morning.
Some users in London said the alert on their app had not changed from Medium to High in accordance with the Tier 2 lockdown restrictions which came into effect.
The Department of Health and Social Care said yesterday that it had identified and resolved the problem, which affected updates made to the app’s postcode alert system on Friday evening.
In response to a flurry of complaints on Twitter, the app’s official account pointed to a “Frequently Asked Questions” page on the NHS website which offered a cop-out that postcode districts do not map exactly to local authorities, and so more than one alert level may apply to a particular postcode district.
Today, in Croydon, the message on the app tells those living in the CR0 post code area, which covers most of the borough of Croydon, that their local covid alert level is both “Medium” and “High”.
Such conflicting and contradictory messaging from Johnson’s government has been criticised strongly by medical professionals since March, when the pandemic was declared.
The messaging on the council’s own website is not as crystal clear as it probably could be – largely, it seems, because no one has bothered to update the site from the status on Friday before the change in alert level. Thus, the council web page states today, “The covid alert level for the borough of Croydon is Medium. From Saturday 17 October the alert level is High.”
It is the sort of thing which makes the job of council officials such as Flowers all the more difficult.
Flowers and her team have continued to work flat-out from the earliest phases of the pandemic, undistracted by other crises confronting them and their colleagues working for the council.
As was suggested in midweek by Matthew Kershaw, the CEO of the Croydon NHS Trust, they have been having some success in controlling the spread of the virus, with figures to October 14 suggesting that the sharp rise in the number of confirmed cases in Croydon during September has started to tail off.
The number of confirmed positive case of covid-19 in Croydon reached 56 on September 30.
But there were zero positive tests in the borough for three consecutive days at the start of this week, on October 10, 11 and 12.
Flowers, though, is taking nothing for granted.
In her email to councillors on Friday, she wrote, “Infection rates are increasing rapidly throughout the capital and as a result the government has announced that the whole of London, including Croydon, will become a Tier 2 area – with the local alert level raised to HIGH as of midnight tonight (Friday).
“This means new rules will be in place to reduce the rate of transmission and keep Croydon safe.
“The key change is:
“You must not socialise with anybody other than members of your household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place, including pubs and restaurants.
“You can still meet with other households outside, in gardens or outdoor spaces, providing everyone maintains a two-metre distance and sticks to the ‘Rule of Six’.”
Flowers stressed to the councillors that we all need to:
- Keep your distance
- Wash your hands
- Wear a face covering
- Rule of Six – do not meet in groups larger than six
- Self-isolate if you have symptoms while you arrange a test, or if you are advised to because you have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive
For the latest government guidance visit www.gov.uk/coronavirus.
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