NHS Test and Trace reaches fewest Covid contacts since launch

5 November 2020, 14:48

Contact tracing has hit a new low as cases have spiked
Contact tracing has hit a new low as cases have spiked. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

The “world-beating” NHS Test and Trace system has reached the lowest ever proportion of contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England.

Four in 10 close contacts of people who tested positive are still not being reached by the system, despite the recorded weekly number of positive cases peaking.

A total of 137,180 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to 28 October, up 8 per cent on the previous week and the highest weekly figure since Test and Trace was launched at the end of May.

According to the latest figures, just 59.9 per cent of close contacts of people who tested positive in England were reached through the system in the week ending 28 October.

This is the lowest since Test and Trace began and is down from 60.6 per cent on the previous week.

For cases managed by local health protection teams, 97.9 per cent of contacts were asked to self-isolate. For cases managed online or by call centres, the figure was 58.5 per cent.

Just 26.4 per cent of people who were tested in England in the week ending 28 October at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit – a so-called “in-person” test – received their result within 24 hours. This is up from 22.6 per cent in the previous week.

Read more: Test and Trace chief adviser admits contact turnaround time 'not good enough'

Read more: Get Test and Trace working to save London's economy, Sadiq Khan warns

Tory peer Dido Harding is in charge of the Test and Trace system
Tory peer Dido Harding is in charge of the Test and Trace system. Picture: PA

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had pledged that he would get “all tests turned around within 24 hours by the end of June, except for difficulties with postal tests or insuperable problems like that”, as part of Britain’s “world-beating” testing system.

Of the 139,781 people transferred to the system in the week to 28 October, 82.7 per cent were reached and asked to provide details of recent close contacts. Some 14.9 per cent of referrals were not reached.

Only 3.5 per cent of people in England who used a home test kit for Covid-19 received their result within 24 hours in the week to 28 October, the same percentage as the previous week.

Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said it was “hugely concerning” that the contact tracing system was “going backwards”.

Read more: Boris Johnson admits 'frustrations' over Test and Trace

Read more: Test and Trace still missing 40 per cent of cases as numbers soar

“If we are to prevent this second wave from escalating further, we need the system to meet the recommended 80 per cent benchmark if it is to have any chance of success,” he said.

“Councils across the country have now launched their own locally supported contact tracing arrangements, to complement the national system, but continue to need clearer, more precise information on who they should be trying to contact as soon as possible.”

Test and Trace chief Baroness Dido Harding said the latest figures show the system is “processing more tests and reaching more people, which means we are finding positive cases and helping to break chains of transmission”.

She said: “We know that there are areas where we still need to improve and we are working tirelessly to make the service quicker and more effective every day.”