Coronavirus: UK's test and trace system not expected to work properly for months

4 June 2020, 20:04

The system is being put in place to help avoid a second spike in coronavirus cases
The system is being put in place to help avoid a second spike in coronavirus cases. Picture: PA

The UK's test-and-trace system is not expected to be fully up and running until autumn, according to a report in The Guardian.

Long touted by the government as being one of the ways the country can avoid a second spike of coronavirus, the system appears to be facing further delays, the report says.

In a recent webinar to staff, the chief operating officer of the NHS scheme, Tony Prestedge, said the system would likely be an "imperfect service at launch that we will improve over time".

He said he hoped to make it "world-class" by September or October.

"We know it will be imperfect," he added.

"We know it will be clunky, but we ask you to help us improve the service."

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According to The Guardian, the webinar was held on 27 May, just before the government announced the system would be launched.

It comes despite the UK's top scientists warning last month that they believed lockdown measures were being lifted too fast across the country.

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Scientists Sir Jeremy Farrar and Professor John Edmunds, both members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) - said ministers were taking risks by allowing the gradual reopening of shops and schools and larger gatherings to meet in private.

In a tweet, Sir Farrar also said the test-and-trace system would need to be "fully working" before restrictions could be rolled back.

He said: "TTI (test, trace and isolate) has to be in place, fully working, capable dealing any surge immediately, locally responsive, rapid results & infection rates have to be lower. And trusted."

Speaking to The Guardian, shadow health minister Justin Madders said the report was "deeply concerning".

He added: "The government’s own scientific advisers have said that an effective track, trace and isolate system must be fully operational before the lockdown is relaxed further so any suggestion that we may be months away from that is deeply concerning.  

"We need assurances from ministers that they urgently ensure an effective system is in place and working effectively. To move ahead with further easing of the lockdown without this vital system working fully would be a huge gamble that no responsible government should take."

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In response, the Department for Health and Social Care said the service was "up and running and is helping save lives."

It added: "Anyone in this country can now book a test and the majority who book a test get the results back within a day. We have over 25,000 contact tracers in place, who have all been trained and are fully supported in their work by public health experts."