19/11/2020 11:47 GMT | Updated 19/11/2020 12:22 GMT

Test And Trace Failed To Reach 40% Of Covid 'Close Contacts' In First Week Of New Lockdown

Under-fire service also continues to post poor figures for test turnaround times.

Boris Johnson’s Test and Trace service failed to reach nearly 40% of “close contacts” of people with Covid-19 in the first week of the November lockdown, new figures have revealed.

The controversial system reached just 60.5% of those identified as having been near someone who tested positive in England, according to the latest statistics for November 5 to November 11.

The figure is almost identical to the previous week, with a total of 123,886 “close contacts” not reached and therefore not told to self-isolate for the required 14 days.

Government advisers have consistently told the PM that an 80% contact rate is needed to make the entire service viable and break transmission of the virus and stop its spread.

The latest contact rate figure is unchanged on the previous week’s revised percentage, and is only slightly higher than the all-time low of 60.1% for the week to October 14.

The update means that since the system was launched in May, a total of 847,126 people have not been reached and have been potentially spreading the virus asymptomatically.

The four-week November lockdown has been designed not just to get the virus back under control but also to give time for the testing and tracing system to improve its performance.

But testing turnaround times are also well below what is expected, with 38.0% of people who were tested in England at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit – a so-called “in-person” test – receiving their result within 24 hours.

This is up marginally from 37.5% in the previous week, but still well short of the 100% pledge Johnson had told MPs he would hit by the end of June.

A total of 167,369 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to November 11, according to the latest figures.

This is the highest weekly number since the service was launched and is an increase of 11% in positive cases on the previous week.

Downing Street defended the “colossal” achievements of NHS Test and Trace but acknowledged improvements could be made.

A No 10 spokesman said: “We are testing more people per head of population than any other European country and that will grow thanks to our increased
testing capacity.”

But “we accept there are still improvements to be made, and we will continue to work on it”.

Dido Harding, the NHS Test and Trace chief who this week herself went into isolation after being told she had a close contact, pointed to the figures showing a record number of positive cases (156,853) were transferred to contact tracers.

The figure was an 11% increase on the previous week. Of those, 84.9% were reached and told to self-isolate, 11,788 more than the previous week.

“This week we have seen more tests processed and more positive cases contacted than ever before, which means we are finding the virus where it hides and reducing its spread,” she said.

“As the number of people using NHS Test and Trace continues to increase, so the service is constantly evolving and improving.

“This week sees the introduction of changes to the contact tracing programme to reduce calls to the same family household, which should reduce duplicate calls, as well as the introduction of Sunday collections of tests from priority boxes by the Royal Mail, which should improve home test turnaround times.”

But shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “There seems little sign that the government are managing to get test and trace performance to the level it needs to be to avoid the virus spreading out of control again. This time must not be wasted.”

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