FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past an information sign amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bolton, Britain, May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo

New support initiatives will be piloted in nine areas of England with higher Covid rates, including from variants, as part of government efforts to boost testing and self-isolation, the health ministry said on Monday (May 24).

The incidence of infections in Britain is still low but clusters of the Indian variant, believed to be more transmissible than the dominant Kent variant, are growing, and could derail plans to further ease lockdown measures.

A total of £12 million will be provided by government for accommodation for those in overcrowded households, social care support and communications assistance for those who don’t have English as their first language, among other steps.

Funding will go to several areas including Yorkshire, Lancashire and the London borough of Hackney.

“Variants have the potential to be a Trojan horse for our hard-won progress and it is more vital than ever that we do what we can to show them the exit door, following the rules and selfisolating when asked,” said health secretary Matt Hancock.

“We recognise just how challenging self-isolation is for many people and these pilots will help us find the best ways to support people and making it easier for everyone to keep doing their bit.”

To test ways to best support people to stay self-isolated if they test positive for Covid-19 and to encourage uptake of testing, the government is already backing a pilot across the Greater Manchester region with £2 million of funding.

This cash injection is assessing ways to boost people’s ability to keep isolating , including ‘support and engagement teams’ who work with households within 24 hours of a positive test to develop a bespoke plan for self-isolation.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “We are doing everything we can to send this virus into retreat and stifle the spread of new variants, and at the heart of this effort is our collaboration with local authorities… Our partnership with local councils has seen us reach more positive cases of the virus than ever before, many of whom were people who could otherwise have unknowingly spread the virus to their loved ones.”

Additional surge testing, genomic sequencing and enhanced contact tracing is helping to control the spread of variants by rapidly break chains of transmission. NHS Test and Trace continues to trace the contacts of any individual who has tested positive while also providing support to local authorities throughout the process.

Cllr James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Rapidly targeting local outbreaks and supporting people to self-isolate when required is absolutely crucial to our continuing fight against coronavirus.

“These pilot schemes will provide further insight into what works best in supporting those who test positive and their contacts to do the right thing to protect themselves, their families and their wider communities.

“All councils continue to use their unique local knowledge and connections to reach out to areas where they are most needed, working with government in our joint national effort to stop the spread and keep case rates as low as possible as we look towards a return to our normal way of life.”

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