Watch: 59.9% of close contacts of people who tested positive for COVID in England reached
A total of 137,180 people tested positive for coronavirus in England in the week to 28 October, an increase of 8% compared to the previous week, according to the latest data from NHS Test and Trace.
Infections have been ‘rising steeply’ since the end of August, the latest report warns.
Some 59.9% of close contacts of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in England were reached through the system in the same week, the lowest weekly percentage since test and trace began.
However, the figures are worse than they first appear, according to Anthony Costello, a former director of the World Health Organization and member of Independent Sage.
He tweeted that of the newly-infected people with COVID, just 14% of contacts are asked to self-isolate – with no figures showing how many of those go along with isolating.
The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said that at least 80% of contacts need to be reached in order for the system to make a difference to the spread of the virus.
The scheme continued to fall well short of targets for testing times, with just 26.4% in-person tests returning a result within 24 hours.
Boris Johnson had pledged that, by the end of June, the results of all in-person tests would be back within 24 hours.
He told the House of Commons on 3 June 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”.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions this week, Johnson acknowledged the failures of the £12bn testing system.
He told MPs: “I am perfectly willing to accept the failings of NHS Test and Trace.
“Of course I am, and of course I take full responsibility for the frustrations people have experienced with that system, but to go from 3,000 tests a day, 2,000 tests a day to 500,000 is a quite remarkable feat.”
Keir Starmer urged the PM to use the new national lockdown to fix the system.
He said on Wednesday: “The latest figures show that 113,000 contacts were not even reached, and that is just in one week.
“Only 20% of those who should be isolating are doing so, and the majority of people still do not get results in 24 hours.
“So can the prime minister give a straight answer: what is he going to do in the next four weeks to fix this, because if he does not, we will be back here again?”
Before the new figures were published, justice secretary Robert Buckland said the month-long lockdown that began in England on Thursday will be used to “redouble our efforts” to expand the NHS Test and Trace programme.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said it is also vital to increase the speed at which test results are returned.
“Lots of people are receiving them the next day which is good, but there are still too many people who are having to wait for days and we are going to continue to work to speed that up,” he said.
“We’ve got to use this time not only to deal with Test and Trace but also to prepare for when we get a vaccine.”
Cllr Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said it is “hugely concerning” that the system is “going backwards” in the number of close contacts reached of those who have tested positive.
He added: “If we are to prevent this second wave from escalating further, we need the system to meet the recommended 80% benchmark if it is to have any chance of success.”
Last month, Serco boss Rupert Soames hit out at critics of the test and trace operation, saying their criticism was “dangerous” and was “trivialising the issue”.
The outsourcing firm provides contact tracers to find people who may have been exposed to coronavirus and persuades them to self-isolate.
Soames criticised Labour for saying the system was “collapsing” after failing to reach its targets, and hit out at the party for putting out the message that “nobody gives a damn” and that it is “run by a greedy capitalist”.
Watch: Test and trace ‘not good enough’