Finding local COVID rate should be 'as easy as checking the weather'

Up-to-date local data on the number of COVID-19 infections should be promoted to the public across England in an easy to interpret way similar to weather forecasts or pollen counts, the British Medical Association has asserted.

As lockdown measures are further relaxed, the BMA warns there is a basic need for the public to be able to understand the current threat in their local area. The rate of new weekly Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people for local authorities in England has been published by Public Health England, while the total rate for local authorities are published on the Government’s dashboard.

However, the BMA says that this data is not necessarily easy for the public to find, or presented in such a way that makes them easy to interpret.

Dr Peter English, BMA public health medicine committee chair, said: “Now that this information is finally being published, it is crucial that it is made available to the public in a way that is instantly understandable. People should not have to look hard to find this vital information. In the same way that I can find the temperature or weather forecast in my area, I should just as easily be able to find the current infection rate.

“During a pandemic this is the least the public should know, so that they understand what the situation is in the area in which they live. This should be accompanied by an easy-to-understand traffic light system of the level of risk – and a transparent government approach to triggering local and national action to tackle local flare-ups.

“The pandemic is not over, and as certain restrictions are eased, this easy-to-digest information would serve as an important reminder to people that they should stay vigilant, and continue to practise social distancing and good personal hygiene.”

The BMA is asking that:

  • Data on current prevalence (the number of infected people per 100,000 population) in local areas is presented in an accessible way. For example, in the same way local information including weather, traffic or pollen counts are made available - on search engines, social media, local media, and on or inside public buildings.
  • Public Health England and local authorities work together with local media and tech companies to ensure information is cascaded appropriately.
  • This data is visualised with an easy to understand “traffic light system” indicating the severity of the situation in local areas.
  • The Government set “trigger points” at which decisions will be made to enforce measures to tackle local flare-ups.

The Association is also continuing to recommend that people wear face coverings when they are indoors and in situations where social distancing is not possible.