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Police given access to test-and-trace data to enforce self-isolation

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 17/10/2020 Patrick Sawer, Lizzie Roberts
Police monitor people seated outside bars and restaurants in Soho, London, on the first day after the city was put into Tier 2 restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images) © PA Wire/PA Images Police monitor people seated outside bars and restaurants in Soho, London, on the first day after the city was put into Tier 2 restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)

Police are to be given the power to access the NHS Test and Trace database if they suspect that an individual should be self-isolating with suspected coronavirus, it has emerged.

The change means officers will be able to access the database directly rather than waiting for a request from councils and health agencies to do so – should they suspect somebody of breaching quarantine measures.

But the move has already led to fears by some leading scientists that it will put people off using Test and Trace and undermine public confidence in the confidentiality of the system.

BLACKPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: People walk through a quiet shopping street in the town centre on October 17, 2020 in Blackpool, England. Lancashire has entered tier 3 of the government’s coronavirus alert system, which bans households mixing and orders bars that do not serve food to close. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images) © 2020 Getty Images BLACKPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: People walk through a quiet shopping street in the town centre on October 17, 2020 in Blackpool, England. Lancashire has entered tier 3 of the government’s coronavirus alert system, which bans households mixing and orders bars that do not serve food to close. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

A senior source told Health Service Journal the move came after Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, made an “incredibly forceful” intervention to ensure that data-sharing arrangements were clarified.

It is understood the office of Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, expressed “significant reservations” about the move, fearing that it would discourage people from being tested.

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A Department of Health source said: “The [CMO’s office] are worried that people will simply stop getting tested because it just opens them up to the risk of being tracked by police and fined, and so the department is creating a strong disincentive to testing, which creates a big public health risk.”

Another senior source with detailed knowledge of NHS Test and Trace operations told HSJ: “T&T are concerned about anything that puts people off getting tested and this will – especially the people we most need to come forward.”

Gallery: Coronavirus outbreak around the world (Photo Services)

However, a senior Government source defended the accessing of test and trace information by the police, saying that it was a “balanced and pragmatic solution” to a “tricky problem”.

They said that making self-isolation legally enforceable was an appropriate “quid pro quo” for the financial support now given to those people by the Government, and that the police needed the information in order to help ensure those supposed to be self-isolating were doing so.

Meanwhile, schools and universities may need to shut down for two weeks to “get on top” of rising cases, according to the Government’s testing chief.

Traffic passes a 'local COVID-19 rules apply' sign displayed along the A55 near Mold in Flintshire, Wales on October 17, 2020, as further restrictions come into force as the number of novel coronavirus COVID-19 cases rises. - Wales's First Minister Mark Drakeford, announced Wednesday that Welsh police forces will carry out extra patrols on main roads to enforce a planned travel ban to prevent people entering Wales from Covid hotspots in the UK. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images) Traffic passes a 'local COVID-19 rules apply' sign displayed along the A55 near Mold in Flintshire, Wales on October 17, 2020, as further restrictions come into force as the number of novel coronavirus COVID-19 cases rises. - Wales's First Minister Mark Drakeford, announced Wednesday that Welsh police forces will carry out extra patrols on main roads to enforce a planned travel ban to prevent people entering Wales from Covid hotspots in the UK. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, has said a national so-called “circuit breaker” lockdown may be necessary for a short period as he described other measures as “biting around the edges”.

Despite unveiling his new three-tiered local lockdown system last week, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, has so far not ruled out the possibility of a national circuit breaker to help squash the recent rise in infections.

The Government’s scientific advisory committee, Sage, advocated for the measure a month ago, saying failure to implement the national intervention could result in “a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences”.

Sir John has now said he sees “very little way” of controlling the current surge in cases without such a measure.

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Stay alert to stop coronavirus spreading - here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

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