Call to bring coronavirus testing under Greenwich council control as virus spirals in London

By Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter

Greenwich councillors have backed a move to break away from the Government’s test and trace system and instead bring coronavirus testing under its own control, as case numbers of the virus spiral across London.

It comes as the rate of Covid-19 in the borough jumped to 20.1 cases per 100,000 people, while neighbouring authority Bexley last week recorded the highest rate of infections in South London.

Concerns over the test and trace system have been widespread across the capital following the return of schools earlier this month, with Greenwich leader Dan Thorpe previously describing the situation as “a total shambles”.

It came as residents across South-east London in recent weeks were directed to locations as far away as central Scotland and rural Wales for tests.

It saw Cllr Thorpe and deputy leader Denise Scott-McDonald move the motion to bring testing operations in-house at the September 23 full meeting of council.

“There’s absolutely no denying testing has been at the heart of the Government’s strategy, but execution has been an absolute and utter scandal,” Cllr Thorpe told the meeting.

He added the Government had pushed over the summer that “everyone who needed a test” would be able to get one as schools and universities prepared for a return.

“Imagine my surprise on the third of September when some residents were being asked to go to Dundee (for testing),” he said.

He was followed by cabinet member for housing Anthony Okereke, who asked: “How many of us can express pride over how our Government has handled this pandemic?”

In response, opposition leader Nigel Fletcher said “there is nothing to be gained” by himself and Labour leader Thorpe “having a slanging match”.

While the Tories did not support the motion to bring testing in-house, Cllr Fletcher said they shared similar concerns.

He added he had been in touch with Conservative Party figures regarding local concerns surrounding testing in the borough.

“We all share the frustrations and we all understand the anger about access to testing in this borough,” he said.

“But I think we should recognise that the government has massively increased the testing capacity since the start of this crisis, and that the testing rate is now among the best in the world.”

Greenwich already handles testing in care homes within the borough, the result of an agreement with the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, and the authority has backed itself to extend that to all facets of the community.

Friday’s update from Public Health England saw Greenwich record 58 new cases, on top of 51 cases the week prior, causing its Covid-19 rate to rise to 20.1 per 100,000 residents.

Neighbours Bexley recorded 69 new cases in the past seven days as of Friday, causing its rate to more than double from the week prior.


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