A SECOND peak of the coronavirus pandemic cannot be totally avoided, only managed.

That is the warning from the director of public health in Oxfordshire.

Ansaf Azhar said a 'test and trace' program would be 'absolutely vital' to prevent coronavirus 'getting out of control' in the county.

Mr Azhar made his warning at a meeting on Thursday of the Oxfordshire Health and Wellbeing Board, which brings togethers councillors and health providers from across the county.

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In the group's first meeting since before the pandemic, he said Covid-19 numbers were now 'starting to come down drastically' with just over 2,000 cases in Oxfordshire and an infection rate slightly above the average for England, with the reinfection rate for the South East below one.

However he warned that, historically, this magnitude of epidemic often produced a second wave and there was a ‘real risk of a second peak’.

He said: "That is why how we put our local measures in place will become massively important in how we try to reduce the impact of it.

"A big part of it is how we manage a second peak rather than actually totally avoiding it.

"In the absence of a vaccination and in the absence of a treatment, the test and trace is going to play the most vital role in terms of keeping numbers down, outbreaks down, in the future."

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Test and trace is the Government program of testing people for the coronavirus, then tracking down the people they have been in contact with recently and asking them to voluntarily self-isolate.

Mr Azhar said the program was building on the 'bread and butter' of Public Health England processes used previously for meningitis and measles, as well as the early containment phase of Covid-19.

He said the difference this time was the scale involved, saying: "Largely we have a three-level system.

"Levels three and two are a national system where we will identify cases and contacts and take action appropriately and it will be business as usual.

Oxford Mail:

Ansaf Azhar, Director of Public Health

"Some will be escalated to level one and we will have to act locally. These will usually be people in complex settings and vulnerable groups."

Mr Azhar said all local directors of public health were being asked by the end of June to produce a local outbreak plan – dealing with how to manage outbreaks as well as how to prevent them.

He said: "As we ease out of lockdown, locally we need to manage this because there is a danger that hotspots and clusters can get out of control."

He said district councils, the voluntary sector and businesses all needed to play a 'vital role' in this effort.

In Oxfordshire, the work is being done collaboratively, with a pool of environmental health officers ready to be deployed should a hotspot appear.

County council leader Ian Hudspeth, chairing the meeting, said that, although it had put a bid in, Oxfordshire had not been chosen as one of 11 'beacon' authorities to lead the way on producing outbreaks plan.

However, he said, the county was actually ahead of some of them anyway.

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Mr Azhar added there had been a lot of conversation about local lockdowns but said he wanted to stop them being needed in the first place.

He explained: "This is about community engagement, building trust with our communities around this and putting measures in place so we don't get to that stage."

He said it would also rely on local data and intelligence to 'build and early warning system', though admitted Oxfordshire agencies still didn't have full access to national testing breakdowns.

Asked about problems with the NHS contact tracing app, abandoned by the Government on Thursday, Mr Azhar said it was 'almost not relevant' for the county-level work being done.