LGA: Extend outbreak funding as part of Plan B to protect local contact tracing support

Councils across the country continue to lead the local fight against the pandemic. However, the Government’s Contain Outbreak Management Fund is set to end in March 2022, which poses a threat to councils' ability to ramp-up efforts in response to the Omicron variant.

High street in Suffolk with COVID-19 sign

The Local Government Association – which represents councils across England – said councils will need an extension to the Government’s COVID-19 outbreak funding to tackle rising Omicron cases and meet a surge in demand for local contact tracing.

Councils across the country continue to lead the local fight against the pandemic. Amid concerns about the Omicron variant and the implementation of Plan B measures to contain it, many are likely to have to ramp up their successful contact tracing efforts in a bid to track new cases.

However, the Government’s Contain Outbreak Management Fund (COMF), which has provided much-needed funding to local authorities in England to help them reduce the spread of coronavirus and support local public health, is set to end in March 2022.

The LGA said this has resulted in some staff with vital expertise moving on to other roles. Without guarantees around the future of this funding, councils may struggle to rapidly stand-up locally-driven testing and contact tracing as soon as possible and be able to respond swiftly to any future localised outbreaks.

Councils have also reiterated the importance for everyone to continue to play their part in stopping the spread, including following the guidance, self-isolate if necessary, wear a face covering and wash our hands regularly.

Cllr David Fothergill, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:

“Councils continue to do all they can to support communities and prepare for what could be the next phase in the battle against this virus. The Omicron variant is a reminder that COVID-19 remains a serious public health threat, that we are likely to be battling for some time to come.

“Using their local knowledge and contacts, councils have complemented the national test and trace system by successfully finding many hard-to-reach cases, while also helping to encourage as many people as possible to get vaccinated. We must learn the lessons of the past two years and tap into and utilise this local expertise.

“With extra funding for councils to contain and manage outbreaks, including for contact tracing, running out, there is growing concern that key staff in tracing roles are leaving or will leave, just as cases are rising. Only with the necessary powers and resources, can councils continue to lead local efforts to tackle outbreaks swiftly and effectively.”