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The UK’s Test and Trace system is “not fit for purpose”, scientists critical of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic have said.
The group of 12 experts – led by former government chief scientific adviser Sir David King – has urged ministers to overhaul the system designed to help the UK out of the coronavirus lockdown.
King said this is the “critical moment for the government to act now or risk further spikes” and the group believe a tracing and isolating system led by local health bodies would be more effective.
The scientists say that Covid-19 will only be contained if 80% of the contacts of infected people are traced and contacted, but they think this is “impossible” under the current centralised system using 25,000 contact tracers.
In their report into Test and Trace, released today, the experts say the approach is “severely constrained by lack of co-ordination, lack of trust, lack of evidence of utility”. They believe the location – and isolation for 14 days – of contacts “is clearly not happening”.
The group, known as Independent Sage, was set up after the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) faced criticism over not being transparent.
King added: “The government has placed huge emphasis on their test, track and trace system in recent weeks, even labelling it ‘world beating’.
“It is clear from our research that this simply isn’t the case. Indeed, the system as it stands is not fit for purpose.”
He continued: “We are calling on the government to urgently rethink their course to ensure that we have a system in place that will help and not hinder the country’s recovery.”
Tony Prestedge, one of NHS Test and Trace’s senior executives, was reported by The Guardian last week to have said the scheme will not be “world class” until at least September.
Boris Johnson told MPs on May 20 the Test and Trace operation would be “world-beating” and in place by June 1.