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Nearly 50k Covid contacts untraced amid PHE ‘technical issue’


By Costanza Pearce
6 October 2020

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Public Health England (PHE) discovered a ‘technical issue’ on Friday evening that meant 15,841 positive coronavirus test results were not included in the reported daily cases over the previous eight days.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said up to 48,000 contacts may not have been traced last week as a result of the ‘shambles’, according to a Labour Party analysis.

Speaking at the House of Commons today, health secretary Matt Hancock told MPs that this is an ‘ongoing incident’ but that contact tracing began ‘first thing’ on Saturday and 51% of the cases were so far contacted as of 9am today.

He added that the chief medical officer has analysed that the Government’s assessment of the virus and its impact ‘has not substantially changed as a result of these data’.

The Government had already decided to replace the PHE ‘legacy system’ involved in the incident in July, Mr Hancock said.

He told MPs: ‘I commissioned a new data system to replace the legacy one, contracts were awarded in August and the work on the upgrade is already underway.’

Mr Hancock added: ‘I want to reassure everyone that every single person who tested positive was told that result in the normal way, in the normal timeframe. They were told that they needed to self-isolate which is of course now required by law.

‘This incident should never have happened but the team have acted swiftly to minimise its impact and now it is critical that we work together to put this right and to make sure that it never happens again.’

He said: ‘Now more than ever, with winter ahead, we must all remain vigilant and get this virus under control.’

Responding to the statement, Mr Ashworth said: ‘This is not just a shambles, it’s so much worse than that. The Government is failing on the basics – when will it finally fix this mess?

 ‘And it gives me no comfort to say it – it’s putting lives at risk, and he should apologise.’

It comes as 12,594 new positive coronavirus cases were yesterday reported in the UK.

But almost 70 GPs led by high-profile names warned the Government against a second lockdown over the weekend.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty last week urged patients to continue to visit their GP despite the ‘direction of travel’ for Covid-19 infections going ‘in the wrong direction’.

And the BMA has warned that GP practices will not cope with a second wave of Covid-19 unless they receive more funding for costs, more support for staff and a reduction in bureaucracy.

A version of this story first appeared in our sister title Pulse.

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