Who are the advisers behind the coronavirus decision-making?

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A range of experts are involved in the key decisions and advice used to try and control the spread of coronavirus.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the various groups and committees which advise ministers.

– What is the Joint Biosecurity Centre?

The JBC was set up a few months into the pandemic to provide real-time analysis of Covid-19 outbreaks and the rate of spread at both a local and national level.

It advises on specific actions which can be taken to manage rising numbers of infections, such as closing schools or businesses, as well as the risk posed by travellers arriving from abroad.

It also provides evidence to the chief medical officers of each of the UK’s four countries, allowing them to decide if a change of alert level is necessary.

The JBC is “an integral part” of the NHS Test and Trace service and its work with Public Health England is “an important element of an evolving and strengthening health protection ecosystem in the UK”, according to the Government website.

Coronavirus – Thu Jul 16, 2020
Sir Patrick Vallance is the Chief Scientific Adviser (House of Commons/PA)

– The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies gives scientific and technical advice for the UK Government’s pandemic response.

It is chaired by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and co-chaired by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Professor Chris Whitty. It includes experts from within Government and leading specialists in healthcare and academia.

– The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours gives advice aimed at helping people stick to the Covid-19 rules and recommendations.

Coronavirus – Wed Sep 30, 2020
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has often taken part in the Downing Street coronavirus briefings (PA)

– The PHE Serology Working Group helps in the understanding, both in England and abroad, of the extent of Covid-19 transmission and to monitor changes over time.

– The Covid-19 Clinical Information Network gathers clinical information from healthcare records of people of all ages admitted to hospital in the UK to view the clinical features of patients with severe Covid-19.

– The Environmental Working Group identifies and steers the role that environmental modelling, data analysis and environmental sampling can play in understanding Covid-19 transmission.

– The Children’s Task and Finish Working Group gives Government advice focusing on Covid-19 in children and within schools and ensures any areas for research are fed into relevant studies.

– The Hospital Onset Covid-19 Working Group aims to give leadership and analysis that could help cut the rate of hospital infections.

– What is the approach taken to local outbreaks?

Ministers are accountable nationally for helping to communicate and work with local, regional and national teams.

There are local directors of public health who are accountable for controlling local outbreaks. They work with Public Health England and local health protection boards, plus have backing on the use of resources from local “gold” structures led by council chief executives.

In a speech in July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said monitoring, engagement, testing, targeted restrictions and lockdown, as a last resort, would be the approach used to try and control  future local outbreaks.

A Government announcement in August said the National Institute for Health Protection, which brings together PHE and NHS Test and Trace plus the analytical capability of the JBC under a single leadership team, would work on the Covid-19 pandemic response.

Coronavirus – Sat Jul 4, 2020
An NHS Test and Trace form offered to customers at the Shakespeare’s Head pub in London (Yui Mok/PA)

NHS Test and Trace Support and Assurance Teams provide a crucial link between local and national government.

It also offers advice about escalating critical issues and can help to rapidly scale up responses.

– Is there a national command structure involved in decision-making?

The Covid-Operations Committee which is made up of the relevant secretaries of state, the CMO and senior civil servants takes a broad look at events and can consider if a local lockdown is needed.

The Local Action Committee (gold) is chaired by the Health Secretary and includes the CMO, ministers and senior civil servants, Public Health England’s chief executive, senior DHSC officials, along with representatives from NHS Test and Trace.

It briefs ministers on the latest national and local epidemiological picture.

There is also a weekly containment group (silver) chaired by the CMO, and a daily containment group (bronze), headed by an NHS Test and Trace executive.

They review and evaluate local outbreak responses and help decide whether a situation needs further investigation and action.

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