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Failing Test and Trace system has left a quarter of a million Covid-19 contacts untraced

New analysis by Labour has revealed that the Government’s disastrous Test & Trace system has failed to trace almost 250,000 close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England.

The analysis, verified by the House of Commons Library, reveals a deeply flawed contact tracing system unable to handle the increase in Covid-19 cases as the country enters a second wave. It shows that last week alone, almost 80,000 close contacts of people who tested positive were not reached and notified.

A contact is defined as someone who has come into close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. Reaching 80% of close contacts is considered one of the key means of slowing transmission of Covid-19.

Yet Labour’s analysis shows that the Government’s contact tracing is going backwards across England, with just over half of close contacts (57.7%) reached last week. For the first time since the weekly Test & Trace figures were published, Labour found that the 80% target was missed in every single local authority and English region.

In the worst-affected regions, the failures of the system mean tens of thousands of people who were in close contact with someone who tested positive were not reached and told to self-isolate last week. In the North West, over 26,000 people were not contacted, with over 14,000 people in Yorkshire and the Humber.

On 9th September, the Prime Minister announced ‘Operation Moonshot’, promising a Test and Trace system which would “allow people to lead more normal lives, without the need for social distancing.”  Labour’s figures show that in the four weeks since that statement, over three quarters of local authorities saw their contact tracing rates decline.

The revelations raise further questions about the UK’s tracing system, already under scrutiny due to the Conservative government’s choice of designing a centralised, privatised system contracted out to Serco and Sitel. SAGE minutes from 21st September and published this week highlight how the billions put into the Test and Trace system has only had a “marginal” impact on slowing infection rates.

With some local councils reaching almost 100% of contacts, Labour has called for contact tracing to be handed over to them as part of a two-to-three week circuit break – designed to reverse the trend of infections and hospital admissions and “to rectify some of the mistakes the Government has made.”

Portsmouth South’s Stephen Morgan MP said:

“The Government must get a grip of the failings of the test and trace system and that means the Prime Minister must act now to reverse the trends we are now seeing.

That is why Labour is calling for a short, sharp circuit break to fix testing, protect the NHS and save lives.” 

Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Rachel Reeves MP added:

“We are at a decisive moment in our efforts to tackle coronavirus, and these figures are a new low for a Test and Trace system on the verge of collapse.

Tests are taking too long, leaving NHS and key workers vulnerable. And the abysmal contact tracing system has failed to reach a quarter of a million close contacts of people with the virus. The government is wasting hundreds of millions on a system that doesn’t seem to function or even use basic common sense.

We’re are beyond the tipping point with the Test & Trace system. Without our local councils working day in day out to pick up the pieces, contact tracing would all have but collapsed”.