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A quarter of people who test positive for coronavirus are still not by reached by the NHS Test and Trace system, new statistics showed on Thursday.
According to official figures issued by the Department of Health and Social Care, 1,383 people (22.4%) could not be reached using the details they had provided. An additional 161 people (2.6%) did not provide any contact details in the first place.
The figures, which cover June 18 to June 24, are a slight improvement on the previous week’s statistics but are well short of the “gold standard” that NHS Test and Trace chief Dido Harding has said she is aiming for.
Under the system, anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 is advised to give their own details and then to inform tracers of those they have spent more than 15 minutes with at a distance of less than two metres in the previous two days.
When people cannot be reached the reasons are either because their details are incorrect, or there was no response to calls, texts and email.
Government insiders admit that there is also a problem with public awareness of the fact that everyone can now get a test. Private polling shows that less than half the population are aware they are now eligible for tests.
Asked about the system’s continuing failure to contact a large chunk of those with the virus, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “It is a new large scale service and it will improve over time.
“It’s important to acknowledge we have set up NHS Test and Trace from scratch, it’s a huge endeavour.
“We have now reached more than 130,000 people who would otherwise have knowingly spread the virus. We do also need the public to continue to play their part providing vital information to test and trace to help protect families and communities and ultimately to save lives.”
The NHS Test and Trace programme, launched in late May, has been hailed by Boris Johnson as a “world-beating” system to contain the spread of coronavirus as lockdown restrictions are eased.
For the whole period since the system first started four weeks ago, a total of 27,125 people who had tested positive for Covid-19 in England had their case transferred to the system. Of this total, 20,039 people (74%) were reached and asked to provide details of recent contacts, while 6,245 people (23%) were not reached.
Once people were contacted, 86% of those they listed as “close contacts” were reached and asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
In total, 132,525 people who had been identified as recent close contacts of Covid-19 cases were reached by tracers. But 20,917 people (14%) identified as close contacts were not reached. A further 841 people (3%) could not be reached because their communication details had not been provided.
Health secretary Matt Hancock had hoped the new regime, modelled on successful tracing operations in countries such as Germany and South Korea, would allow firms and schools to safely reopen while preventing new virus patients from passing the disease on to others.
Shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “There are still a quarter of people not being contacted.
“There is no doubt that this is well below the levels we need to effectively contain the virus and the Government seems to be too slow again to react to these failings.
“As we now begin to see localised lockdowns we need Ministers to be far more rigorous about getting to the bottom of why the contact rate isn’t improving. The performance so far simply isn’t good enough and far from the world leading system we were promised.”
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran added: “When the government’s own figures show that one in four people with coronavirus are still being missed, at this point it feels like we are flying blind. ”
Boris Johnson’s own target of turning around most Covid tests within 24 hours by the end of June looked unlikely after the latest statistics showed that just 73.9% of test results in “satellite” centres – normally used for care homes – were received the next day after the test was taken.
There was, however, major progress on 70 regional test centres, where 98% got the results the next day, and 136 mobile testing centres, where the figure was 96.7%.
Fewer than 10% of home testing with postal kits, which are not included in Johnson’s target, have results returned within 24 hours.
The government also appeared to be moving the goalposts of the 24-hour target. Insiders say people do not want texts of results at unsocial hours, so the target will be changed to “results received by the next day”.