The UK government on Monday announced that after hitting its testing target for coronavirus of over 100,000 tests daily, it will now be moving into the track and trace phase of its fight against the deadly virus, which has claimed 28,734 lives across hospitals and the wider community in the country.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the daily Downing Street briefing that central to the track and trace phase will be a new contact tracing smartphone app, which is set for a pilot in the Isle of Wight region of England this week.
“The goal is to keep the number of new infections going down, and bringing in the new programme from tomorrow (Tuesday) in the Isle of Wight and the rest of the country thereafter will help that,” said Hancock.
“Our goal is not simply to flatten the curve, but to get the occurrence to very low levels,” he said.
The app, developed by the digital arm of the state-funded National Health Service NHSX, is designed to alert users when they have come into contact with someone who has coronavirus symptoms and should seek a COVID-19 test.
After the pilot of the “test, track and trace procedures” on the island, the app is expected to be made more widely available to the British public later this month.
“This trial does not mean the end of social distancing on the Isle of Wight or anywhere else,” Hancock stressed, as he appealed to everyone living in that region to download the app.
From among the questions from members of the public at the briefing, the minister was also asked about the steps being taken by the government to protect black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff within the NHS after reports of them being at higher risk from Covid-19.
“We recognise that there has been a disproportionately high rate of deaths among BAME care workers,” said Hancock, adding that work is on to understand it scientifically. Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Office for England, added that the NHS is taking this “incredibly seriously”.
“A large programme of work has been put in place… the NHS will get to the bottom of this,” he said.
The government launched a review into the disparity in death rates from Covid-19 among BAME communities, including Indians, last month.
One hypothesis is that people from BAME communities have higher rates of underlying health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension, and this may increase their vulnerability and risk.
The Research and Innovation Forum of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) has been among the many medical associations lobbying the government for steps to protect this vulnerable category of the NHS workforce.
NHS England recently advised hospital trusts to make “appropriate arrangements” to ensure BAME doctors and nurses are shielded as best as possible on the job, including being given less frontline roles in the pandemic fightback.