Director of Public Health, Blackburn with Darwen Council

SOME people may think the coronavirus crisis has been exaggerated.

After all, they might argue, the official death toll is actually only nearly 40,000 – and public health experts told us in February that hundreds of thousands might die.

The answer to this is yes we have kept the numbers down and the NHS has not been overwhelmed, but that has only been because we have had the biggest lockdown in history.

The lockdown allowed us to suppress the transmission of the virus by about 60 per cent but we can’t lockdown forever. The social, economic and human costs are unsustainable - we need to move on.

To do this, last Friday the government announced a new three tiered test and trace system, which from June 1 will allow us to gradually open up society whilst keeping a check on the spread of the virus. Tier one of this system will involve local authorities working with their local Public Health England offices, developing local outbreak control plans which will focus on identifying and containing any potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, care homes and schools.

It will focus on managing ‘complex cases’ such as outbreaks in homeless hostels. It will involve ‘consequence management’ - managing the unpredictable effects for individuals and key workforces where large numbers may have to go home immediately, self-isolate and get tested if they are contacts of a newly-confirmed case.

Tier two will involve an ‘army of contact tracers’ at regional level who will follow up by phone all the contacts of confirmed cases. Tier three will involve an App, telephone line and other entry points into the system through which confirmed cases are reported and their contacts passed on for tracing. As this system comes into full operation, it is likely that many of us will be affected. If we are contacts of a confirmed case, we will get a notification that we should go home immediately, self-isolate, apply for a test online and not go out of the house until we test clear or, if positive, continue to self-isolate. This could happen to whole groups of us in workplaces, mosques or schools – and it could happen more than once!

It will be very disruptive. But not doing this now will be more disruptive for longer, as it will risk a long tail of infections lasting years. The more determined we are now and the more rapidly we act to shut down the transmission of this virus, the sooner we can all return to a more normal life.