Ministers launch new coronavirus test and trace drive

Ministers launch new coronavirus test and trace drive and pledge to scale up swab capacity to 500,000 a day ahead of winter as figures show contacts of a THIRD of infected Brits aren’t being tracked

  • Just 2,809 people provided details to test and trace of 4,242 contacts received 
  • Government will launch a new TV advert tonight to encourage test and tracing 
  • Chief Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace, Dido Harding urged everyone in the UK to get a free test as soon as they notice coronavirus symptoms 

The Government will launch a new NHS Test and Trace public health campaign in a desperate bid to improve the lagging system after it emerged a third of contacts are still being missed. 

A TV advert that will air tonight will tell Britons that if they test positive for Covid-19, they must hand over details of people they have come into contact with.

Restaurants, pubs, salons and gyms will now be supported by contact tracers to log their customers’ details so they can be contacted easier.

It comes after figures today showed in the week of July 16-22, some 4,242 people infected with coronavirus in England were referred to the programme.  

But just 2,809 (77 per cent) agreed to provide details of people they had come into close contact with recently, meaning thousands of potential patients went missed. 

A total of 646 with the virus could not be reached at all by the tracers, who phone, text and email someone up to 10 times a day to get hold of them. 

As part of the new public health blitz, the NHS will now encourage everyone to get a free test as soon as they get symptoms — previously the advice was to only apply for a swab if you had ‘persistent flu-like symptoms’.

Ministers have today also pledged to increase the UK’s coronavirus testing capacity to 500,000 per day before winter, amid fears thousands of people with coughs and colds caused by other infections will take up most of the space.   

The Government has launched a new test and trace campaign after figures revealed that a third of British contacts have gone missing. Figures from the Government show that numbers of people being referred to the tracing system has steadily declined since May

In the week of July 16-22, some 4,242 contacts in England were given to the NHS for tracing purposes. Some 81 per cent of contacts reached were able to give details of one or more contacts

There has been a gradual increase in the percentage of people who are being reached by the tracing system and being asked to provide details of recent close contacts

Coronavirus cases in Britain have been on the up for a fortnight — but deaths have barely changed and hospital admissions are still flat, according to official figures.

Department of Health statistics show 726 people are testing positive for the life-threatening virus each day, on average. It is 33 per cent higher than the average of 546 recorded exactly three weeks ago, which was the lowest figure since before lockdown. 

But the number of Brits being diagnosed with Covid-19 is much lower than what was being recorded during the darkest days of the outbreak in April. 

Around 5,000 positive tests were being recorded each day during the height of the crisis — but this is likely to be a massive under-estimate due to a lack of testing.  Fewer than 20,000 people were getting swabbed for the virus on a daily basis in April. Now more than 100,000 tests are being processed each day. 

The number of coronavirus deaths has barely changed in the past 10 days, with the rolling seven-day average currently standing at 66. For comparison, it was 65 on Tuesday and 64 last Wednesday. 

Infected patients can take weeks to die from the coronavirus, meaning any up-tick in cases across the past fortnight may not start trickling through until next week. 

Hospital admissions — another marker of an outbreak that go up before deaths — have also barely changed in the past week. Fewer than 100 people are still being admitted in England each day.

However, scientists from King’s College London believe cases could still be on the rise. Data from a symptom-tracking app the team runs estimates 2,110 people are being struck down with the virus each day in the UK — up from 1,884 last week. But the academics believe the outbreak is stable.

Testing figures do not show the true number of people infected because many people catch the virus but never test positive for it, either because they don’t realise they are sick, because they couldn’t get a test, or because their result was wrong.

Today’s contact tracing figures, released by the Department of Health, also found the programme failed to reach almost a fifth of people who tested positive for Covid-19 last week. 

Little over 81 per cent of infected people were actually tracked down by tracers — marking the first time the system has caught more than 80 per cent of patients since it launched on May 28. 

One in four people who came into close contact with someone infected with coronavirus could not be reached by the NHS Test and Trace service.

Only 75.1 per cent (13,974) of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate. This was down from the 78.4 per cent reached in the previous week, and the 90.8 per cent reached in the first week of Test and Trace.

Scientists have previously said eight in 10 Covid-19 sufferers need to be reached and their contacts isolated for the system to be effective. 

But the fact it has taken two months to achieve has left critics of the programme less than convinced it is the ‘world beating’ system it was touted as by politicians when it launched. 

Meanwhile, the report also found that just three in four people who took a Covid-19 test at a regional site or mobile testing unit received their result within 24 hours.

Boris Johnson promised to turn around every coronavirus test within 24 hours day by the end of June, as the Government fails to meet its own targets again.

About 43,000 people diagnosed with Covid-19 in England have had their cases transferred to the NHS Test and Trace system since its launch. 

Of them, 77.6 per cent were reached and asked to provide details of recent contacts.

More than 184,000 close contacts of people who have tested positive have been reached by the system and asked to self-isolate – 83 per cent of the total number identified as close contacts.

Chief Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace, Dido Harding urged everyone in the UK to get a free test as soon as they notice coronavirus symptoms. 

She said: ‘The NHS Test and Trace service is a vital part of enabling us to get back to safely doing the normal things we love, and will become ever more important as we approach winter.

‘By working in partnership with local public health and local authority teams we are already helping stop the spread of coronavirus across England, by reaching over 200,000 people who may have been at risk of passing it on.

‘I urge everybody to get a free test as soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms and to follow the advice you’re given if you are contacted by the service. If we all continue to play our part, then together we can stop the spread of this virus.’

The campaign to get people tested and help return to normal officially launches this evening with a new TV advert, and has the backing of The Premier League and England and Wales Cricket Board. 

High street brands such as John Lewis, M&S, Lidl and Sainsbury’s are joined by UK holiday companies including Intercontinental Hotels (Holiday Inn), Center Parcs, Butlin’s and Merlin Entertainment who will all help promote the new campaign. 

The current testing network is set to grow and improve and the Government will be investing in the most innovative testing technologies.   

Getting a test for coronavirus is also expected to become much easier. People will be able to get a test closer to where they live, with the number of testing sites increasing to over 500 locations in England. 

By October, the majority of people living in urban settings will be no more than a 30 minute walk from a test site. 

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