Suspected locations of COVID-19 transmission

Mark Houston made this Rhyddid Gwybodaeth request to Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland

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Dear Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland,

The Executive has stated that the reason for implementing new restrictions on visiting private households indoors in September was because the recent increase in Covid-19 cases is attributable to virus transmission being more prevalent in domestic rather than public settings such as pubs, schools, restaurants etc.

For example the Belfast Telegraph reported on 10th September: "Mrs Foster said the spread of Covid-19 was happening in households. Insisting that the "villain is in our households" and not in businesses"

The Executive press release of 21st September also stated: "The restrictions on domestic settings is a proportionate measure at this time – the risk of the virus spreading is greater in unregulated environments."

Given the First Minister's public statements, I assume that contact tracing statistics have demonstrated that domestic settings are the primary source of virus transmission. However, such data does not appear to be available on the Department of Health's online Covid-19 dashboard. DOH have confirmed to me that they do not have the information I am seeking.

My FOI request is as follows:

Please provide a breakdown of the location or origin of transmission for cases of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland during the month of September 2020.

Please see example format below (my list is not exhaustive, please add more categories if I have omitted any).

Location of transmission/infection - Number of Cases traced to location
Pubs -
Restaurants -
Workplaces -
Private households -
Shops -
Schools -
Hospitals -
Care homes -
Etc.

I trust this request is clear, I am not sure of the exact terminology used in contact tracing so I am content for this to be interpreted as "suspected location" if necessary.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am assuming that if for example a person caught Covid-19 in their workplace, then spread it onwards to 3 members of their household that the "origin" of all 4 cases would be traced to 'workplace' rather than 1 'workplace' and 3 'household' but please correct me if I am wrong.

Yours faithfully,

Mark Houston

Foi Pha, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland

1 Atodiad

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Dear Foi Pha,

Can you please provide an update on the status of my request? The 20 working days for response elapsed on 4th November and I have heard nothing further despite your original email stating I would be advised of a revised estimate for response if there were any delays.

Given that politicians were citing where the virus was and wasn't spreading during September the information I requested evidently already existed at that time so it should be fairly straightforward to provide it to me?

Yours sincerely,

Mark Houston

Foi Pha, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland

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Foi Pha, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland

2 Atodiad

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________________________________

Dear Mr Houston

Ref: Freedom of Information Request No. 80/20

Please find attached PHA's response to your Freedom of Information Request.

We apologise for our delay in responding, you will appreciate that the PHA is experiencing unprecedented demand on both its personnel and resources at this time and your patience and understanding is recognised and appreciated.

If you have any queries about this communication, please do not hesitate to contact me. It would be helpful if you could quote the reference number above in any future communications relating to this request for information.

Yours sincerely

Janine Watterson
Assistant Governance Manager

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear Janine,

As you have confirmed that the PHA holds information in relation to the locations of potential transmission for positive cases of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland in respect of September 2020 but not in the format I have requested, can you please provide the information to me in its existing format rather than what I requested.

I trust that since the information already exists in some format that this will not exceed the appropriate limit to provide it, as you will not need to spend time adapting it into another format.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Houston

Foi Pha, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland

“This email is covered by the disclaimer found at the end of the message.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

This is an automated message:

 

Thank you for your FOI request.  The FOI team will formally acknowledge
receipt of your FOI request in due course.

 

However, in the meantime please consider the following.  Due to the
current pandemic, staff within the Public Health Agency are working at
full capacity to respond to and manage the situation day by day.  If you
have submitted an FOI request seeking COVID-19 related information, it is
those same staff who will have to be taken from this work and deployed in
order to provide you with a response. 

 

Over the past few months, there has been an increasing amount of
information and statistics made available on the internet, updated on a
daily or weekly basis, in order to inform the public.  This information
can be found at:

 

* [1]DoH Daily Dashboard 
* [2]NISRA dashboard
* [3]PHAWeekly COVID 19 & Monthly Epidemiological Bulletins

 

If your FOI request is COVID-19 related, please take a look at these
resources online – perhaps they will provide the information you are
seeking.  If they do, it would be extremely helpful to us if you would
withdraw your request to avoid us having to process your request further. 
You can do this by sending a follow-up e-mail to the above email address
advising that you wish to withdraw your request. 

 

If the web links above do not give you the information you are requesting,
or if your request is non-COVID-19 related, we will proceed with your
request as per our normal procedure.  Please note that given the current
COVID-19 situation PHA may not be able to respond to your request within
the 20 day timeframe laid down in the FOI Act 2000 however, please be
assured that a response will be sent as soon as we are in a position to do
so.

 

Thank you

 

FOI team

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland,

Is there any chance of ever getting a response to my email of 17th December 2020? If the problem is converting the information into the format I requested, then simply provide it in its existing format and I will be perfectly content with that.

Thank you,

Mark Houston

Foi Pha, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland

“This email is covered by the disclaimer found at the end of the message.”

________________________________

Afternoon Mr Houston

Thank you for your email below and apologies for the delay - please be assured that your request is being considered and a response will be issued to you as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Carol Hermin

OBO
Janine Watterson
Assistant Governance Manager | 12–22 Linenhall Street | Belfast | BT2 8BS | Tel No: 028 9536 2578

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear Foi Pha,

Can you please clarify what exactly is being "considered" about my request? The time limit for responding passed well over a month ago.

A recent report in the BBC referred to PHA information that schools aren't a major source of transmission - so presumably this shows that you have information on the number of cases linked to schools, much as I asked for in the first place all the way back in October: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-i...

There was also a report about cases linked to different types of workplaces from a BBC FOI to Public Health England, again much along the lines of what I've requested so if they can release it I don't see why you can't? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-55843506

Yours sincerely,

Mark Houston

Foi Pha, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland

2 Atodiad

“This email is covered by the disclaimer found at the end of the message.”

________________________________

Dear Mr Houston

Ref: Freedom of Information Request No. 80/20

Please find attached PHA's updated response to your recent Freedom of Information Request.

We apologise for our delay in responding - you will appreciate that the PHA is experiencing unprecedented demand on both its personnel and resources at this time and your patience and understanding is recognised and appreciated.

If you have any queries about this communication, please do not hesitate to contact me. It would be helpful if you could quote the reference number above in any future communications relating to this request for information.

Yours sincerely

Carol Hermin
OBO FOI Team

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear Foi Pha,

I am requesting an internal review of your response.

You have stated “The costs of extracting and preparing data (to prevent identification of specific settings/individuals)” would exceed the cost threshold. However as per the ICO’s guidance “You cannot take into account the time you are likely to need to decide whether exemptions apply, **to redact (edit out) exempt information**, or to carry out the public interest test.” ‘Preparing the data to prevent identification’ would be editing it to redact exempt information (presumably personal data under S40) and therefore cannot be counted towards the 18hrs.

The Outbreak/Cluster summary link you provided is very much along the lines of what I am looking for, except the available reports do not cover the time period I requested and exclude some settings. Given that you are now producing these reports on a weekly basis I am surprised that producing a report using September’s data would not be possible within the appropriate limit? All I am asking is for this same report but for the month of September 2020 with extra lines added to include the number of clusters/outbreaks for ‘Household’ and ‘Educational’ settings.

If this information is truly not possible to extract within 18hrs (not including time spent redacting/editing) I would be keen to see the calculation justifying the estimated time required. It is particularly difficult to understand how it could take this long to extract the information when there are several statements from politicians which strongly imply the information already exists. For instance in my initial request I referenced a comment from Arlene Foster that “the villain is in our households and not in businesses." Presumably this was based on data that showed the number of either cases, clusters or outbreaks linked to households was greater than those linked to non-domestic settings. Therefore it is difficult to understand how it would take over 18hrs to extract data that was already collated and used for decision-making back in September.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Houston

Foi Pha, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland

“This email is covered by the disclaimer found at the end of the message.”

________________________________

Dear Mr Houston

Internal Review of Freedom of Information Response No. 80/20

Thank you for your request for an internal review of PHA’s response to your Freedom of Information request. Your request was received by the Public Health Agency on 29 March 2021. We will endeavour to conduct this review as quickly as possible and provide you with a response.

If you have any queries about this communication, please do not hesitate to contact me. It would be helpful if you could quote the reference number above in any future communications relating to this request.

I hope this is helpful.

Yours sincerely

Janine Watterson
Assistant Governance Manager

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Foi Pha, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland

1 Atodiad

“This email is covered by the disclaimer found at the end of the message.”

________________________________

Dear Mr Houston

Please find attached the findings/outcome of the internal Review Panel which was set up to undertake a review in relation to your information request FOI 80/20.

Your sincerely

Janine Watterson
Assistant Governance Manager

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir