Test and Trace misses 123,000 contacts in a week as rate stuck at historic low

A nurse swabbing the throat of a traveller as he adminsters a Covid-19 test in Heathrow Airport (Image: LHR AIRPORTS LIMITED/AFP via Get)

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The failing NHS Test and Trace system is still missing most contacts, new data reveals today.

60.5% of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England were reached in the week to November 11.

Once you account for original positive cases who either could not be reached, or who refused to hand over contact details, the rate reached is well below half.

Contacts reached from people who tested positive and handed over details has remained around the 60% mark for three weeks after falling to a record low rate.

The data suggests England’s contact tracing system continues to be overwhelmed by increasing Covid-19 cases during the second wave.

Soldiers being trained for coronavirus tests in Italy (file photo)
(Image: GIUSEPPE LAMI/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

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It is mostly outsourced to private firms Serco and Sitel. By comparison, cases managed by local health protection teams have a “much higher success rate”.

For cases managed by local health protection teams, 98.9% of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate.

For cases managed either online or by call centres, 58.9% of close contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate.

The government claimed the difference was because Test and Trace cases “have a higher proportion of contacts who are unable to be reached”.

But Pascale Robinson of the anti-privatisation campaign group We Own It said: “The privatised national test, track and trace system is failing on all counts.

Despite the figures, a Downing Street spokesman said Test and Trace's achievements were "colossal"
(Image: House of Commons/PA Wire)

“It's not identifying people's close contacts or asking them to isolate quickly enough and it's putting us all at risk.”

Despite the figures, a Downing Street spokesman said today: “We believe the achievements of Test and Trace since the beginning of the pandemic have been colossal.”

He added: “We’re testing more people per head of population than any other European country.”

The proportion of close contacts reached has now sat at a historic low of around 60% for more than a month.

Considering only the contacts where contact details were provided, 77.9% were reached in the most recent week.

While the proportion has remained roughly the same, the number of actual people slipping through Test and Trace’s grasp has risen as the number of cases rise too.

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In the last week a record 167,369 people tested positive – meaning 123,886 of their close contacts were not reached and told to self-isolate.

That means those people could be developing symptoms and infecting others while still going to schools, workplaces or shops.

Positive cases have been rising steeply since the end of August but the proportion of people testing positive has stabilised at 9.6%.

The time it takes to get many test results has however fallen, from 103 hours to 46 for care home tests since the beginning of September.

It takes on average 51 hours for home test kits to turn around a result, down from 84 at the beginning of September.

But including all tests, only 20% were received within 24 hours of a test being taken, compared to 18.8% in the previous week.

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