More than 17,000 contacts of people with coronavirus have still not been traced by NHS Test and Trace after a computer blunder, Downing Street has revealed.
Some 37% of the suspected 48,000 contacts of the nearly 16,000 missing cases remain untraced as of 9am on Tuesday, the prime minister’s official spokesperson announced.
The figure is down from 49% the previous day, but still represents a substantial number of people who remain unaware that they may need to self-isolate to avoid spreading the virus.
Experts advise that ideally contacts should be tracked down within 48 hours, but tens of thousands may have now gone more than four days without being alerted.
Public Health England (PHE) revealed on Sunday the dramatic news that 15,841 cases between 25 September and 2 October were left out of the UK daily case figures thanks to an IT glitch.
PHE said all those who tested positive had been informed. But it meant that others in close contact with them were not.
The prime minister’s spokesperson said on Tuesday: “63% of cases have been successfully completed, that includes individuals being contacted and a survey of their contacts being completed.
“They are working through the cases urgently, they are using additional tracers. Over the course of the last 24 hours we have made some progress in that regard.”
With an estimated 47,523 contacts in total originally untraced, the 63% figure suggests that 29,939 of them have been now tracked down, but 17,584 have not.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday that the unreported cases in England “should never have happened” and stressed he had moved in August to change the IT systems.
But Labour said the missing results were “putting lives at risk”.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told HuffPost UK: “Days after the event, thousands of people remain blissfully unaware they have been exposed to this deadly virus and ministers are clueless as to when they will be actually traced.
“This is so much worse than a shambles, it’s putting lives at risk and Boris Johnson urgently needs to get a grip.”
PHE interim chief executive Michael Brodie said at the weekend that a “technical issue” was identified overnight on Friday in the process that transfers Covid-19 positive lab results into reporting dashboards.
The majority of the unreported cases had occurred in the “most recent days”, he said.
When asked in the Commons to provide detailed figures, Hancock suggested it would be difficult to do so quickly.
“We have obviously been continuing to contact both the index cases and the contacts,” he said.
“Of course the total number of contacts depends on how many contacts each index case has so that information will of course be made available in the normal way when it has been completed, but you can’t know in advance how many contacts there are because you have to do the interviews with the index cases first.”