17 November 2020
What is Talking Point?
Cambridge News asks a representative of each local political party to answer a question on a local issue in just 300 words. The answers are then published in the physical copy of the Cambridge News every fortnight. Here, we share our response to the question.
Today's Question: According to The Times, the Prime Minister has ‘promised’ he is now going to give local areas control over mass coronavirus testing as well as a budget of £465m for track and trace (which, in normal times, is quite a lot of money). How will the council act if it is given this responsibility? Dr Nicholas Matheson - ‘the Baroness Harding of Cambridge’ - has tested over 10,000 students at Cambridge during Michaelmas. Do you think his efforts have been a success? The report attached would, by and large, suggest so. Is this something you might look to imitate on a larger scale throughout Cambridge?
Observation of this pandemic internationally, and our own national experience, indicates that we should have seen the increase in cases coming. Other respiratory viral infections increase in the winter. The approach to slowing the rate, prior to the national lockdown, was not working and new community based measures are clearly needed. With such wide regional variation in infection rates, giving funding and power to local authorities and public health professionals and letting them take ownership of decision-making will allow much better focus on the various actions (such as mass testing, track and trace, isolation requirements) that are needed to reduce community transmission.
Jesus College (where I am based for my research) has dedicated a number of staff and resources to run their own track and trace system and manage all the positive cases in the student population, as well as providing support to those students needing to isolate. Encouragingly, since the start of the pandemic, there have been no uncontrolled outbreaks of coronavirus. What is unclear is whether, outside of the structure of the University, a widespread asymptomatic testing programme delivered locally would transform management of the second wave in the wider context of the city.
Cambridge is an atypical city, and unsurprisingly we have seen huge variation in the number of positive cases per ward over the last few weeks. One strength of our city is the wealth of medical and public health expertise on our doorstep. For this reason we have an opportunity to develop a city wide local system based on top medical expertise to understand what is happening locally and, if successful, share good practice. There needs to be a balance between a national approach to the second wave of coronavirus with local efforts to control outbreaks and focus resources.
Our response was written by Dr Hannah Charlotte Copley. Hannah is a local NHS medical doctor and Medical Research Council clinical research training fellow, as well as the Co-Convener of Cambridge Green Party.