Test and Trace still missing 40% of Covid contacts as highest as numbers skyrocket

29 October 2020, 19:16

A total of 126,065 people tested positive in the seven days up to 21 October
A total of 126,065 people tested positive in the seven days up to 21 October. Picture: PA

Test and Trace is still missing 40% of close contacts of people who have tested positive for coronavirus, latest statistics show.

A total of 60.3% of these close contacts were reached in the seven days up to 21 October - a slight rise from the previous week, but comes as the system recorded its highest ever number of positive cases.

There were 126,065 new cases of COVID-19 recorded during the same period.

This is both a 23% rise on the number of new cases from the previous week, and is the highest weekly number since Test and Trace was launched in May.

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Cases managed by local health protection teams were most likely to be reached as this had a success rate of 97% in the week up to 21 October.

However, this compared with 58.1% of people who were contacted as part of cases handled online or by call centres.

Last week, just 13.7% of people who were tested in England at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit - a so-called "in-person" test - received their result within 24 hours.

This percentage rose to 22.6% in the latest figures - but is still a far cry from the promise made by Boris Johnson over the summer.

The prime minister pledged back in June that by the end of the month all in-person tests would be turned around within 24 hours.

He said this would be the case for all tests "except for difficulties with postal tests or insuperable problems like that".

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Just 3.5% of people in England with a home test kit also received their result in 24 hours in the week up to 21 October.

This is a rise of 2.8% on the previous week.

The percentage increased to 24.9% for home test kits when looking at receiving the result within 48 hours. This is, again, a rise from 14.1% in the previous week.

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Meanwhile, in the same period, 80.5% of the 120,442 people transferred to Test and Trace were reached and asked to provide details of close contacts.

This is a drop from 81.7% in the previous week.

There are 17.6% of people transferred to the system that have not yet been reached, while 1.9% did not provide communication details.

Interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, Baroness Dido Harding, said she recognised there was "more to be done" after the figures were released.

She said: "We are working hard to meet these increased demands whilst improving the service we offer to the public."

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Miriam Deakin, the director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said the latest number were proof of "rapidly rising infections".

She said: "As other countries are also now finding, it is difficult for a test and trace system to keep up and operate effectively now that the number of cases has risen so significantly.

"We should acknowledge the number of people tested has risen, turnaround times are slightly better, and more people are being transferred to the contact tracing system.

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"But far too few contacts of those carrying the virus are ever reached which has hampered the system's effectiveness from the outset.

"And as infections rise the challenges become even greater.

"That's why we need our politicians to be ready to make tough and speedy decisions to bear down on the virus, and ensure the NHS is able to maintain the quality of care for all patients, caring for those with Covid and other conditions."