Test and trace scheme failing to reach more than one in four coronavirus cases

Almost 4,000 people that have test positive have not been contacted by tracers

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More than one in four people that have tested positive for coronavirus have not been reached by the government’s Test and Trace scheme.

Newly published data from the Department of Health and Social Care reveals that, of the 14,045 people across England referred to the contact-tracing system during its first two weeks in operation, tracers have failed to make contact with 3,853 – equating to 27.4% of the total.

In the week ending 3 June, the figure stood at 28%. This included 24.7% who could not be reached on the details they had given, and a further 3.3% that had not provided any such details.

The following week brought a slight improvement, with 26.6% of positive cases remaining uncontacted. This included 2.5% that failed to provide details.

The number of people referred to the system in the second week stood at 5,949, compared with 8,096 in week one. 

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Of those that were successfully contacted, during the first week 75.4% were reached by contact tracers within 24 hours of referral, and 89% were reached within 48 hours.
During week two, these figures stood at 78% and 88.9%, respectively.

Those uploaded to the system during the opening week collectively identified 51,851 people with whom they had been in close contact. This equates to 6.4 people each.

In the second week, the 44,895 contacts identified represented 7.55 for each person that had tested positive for coronavirus.

The success of reaching these contacts and asking them to self-isolate was 90.5% in week one and 90.6% in week two.

More than 85% of contacts were reached in the first 24 hours, with 95% contacted within 48 hours.

Despite this high success, between 28 May and 10 June, a cumulative total of 9,107 people that are known to have been in close contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 could not be reached by tracers.

For the foreseeable future, the UK will be entirely reliant on a system of manual tracing, after the contact-tracing app developed by NHSX was ditched last week. After several months of work and at least £12m spent on external contracts – in addition to whatever internal resources have been committed – the government acknowledged that the technology does not work on iPhones.

The plan now is to take whatever can be salvaged from the UK app and integrate it with the tracing system jointly developed by Apple and Google. 

The government had originally planned to launch its contact-tracing app in mid-May – as the flagship element of the track-and-trace programme – but this date was repeatedly delayed, prior to the technology finally being scrapped entirely.

There is, as yet, no planned launch date for a tracing app based on the Apple and Google system.

Sam Trendall

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