Coronavirus contact tracing hits new low – just as new cases soar

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The NHS Test and Trace service has suffered a new blow after almost a third of coronavirus sufferers’ close contacts were not told to self-isolate.

The struggling service is meant to phone people who’ve been in contact with someone who has coronavirus in England, and tell them to stay at home for 14 days.

But just 69.2% of Covid-19 patients’ close contacts were reached by the service in the week to September 2 – the lowest since Test and Trace launched in May.

And it comes at the same time as the weekly number of cases surged to 9,864 in England – up 43% on a week before, and again the highest since Test and Trace launched in May.

Combined together, that means a record 9,978 close contacts of coronavirus sufferers were not reached in the most recent week.

That’s the highest since May and almost double the weekly number of people who were falling through the cracks in mid-August.

Information published by the government today insisted not all those people are falling through the cracks.

An explainer said people will often advise their household members to self-isolate before Test and Trace ring up.

“This results in these contacts not being recorded as reached and asked to self-isolate,” the document said.

However, the proportion of close contacts who’ve been reached and told to self-isolate has been in a slow decline since Test and Trace launched.

The proportion of home test kits giving results within 48 hours has also plummeted – at just 17% in the most recent week. That’s down from 73% in mid-July.

It comes after a surge in demand for tests that has left people being told to travel hundreds of miles to get tested.

Matt Hancock tried to shift the blame onto a surge of healthy people requesting tests without symptoms.

But he admitted there were problems in the system that would take “weeks” to resolve.

Interim Executive Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection Baroness Dido Harding, said: “NHS Test and Trace is working and every week we consistently reach the majority of people testing positive and their contacts.

“We have now reached almost 360,000 people who may be at risk of unknowingly passing on the virus, helping to curb its spread.

“We are doing more testing for the British public than other comparable European countries and we are adding thousands more tests a day.

“The figures show we have seen a significant increase in the demand for tests, but given the concerning rise in cases over the last couple of days, it is still vital for anybody who has symptoms to book a test and follow the advice you receive if you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace.”

Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders said: “There is nothing ‘world beating’ about this.

“With millions of people going back to work and schools this week it is concerning that the system is not improving.

“It is also worrying that the Prime Minister does not even know how test and trace is performing, and shows the Government is failing to understand the scale of the problem.

“This does nothing to provide the public with the safety and assurance they need.”

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