Just 70% Of Coronavirus 'Close Contacts' Reached By NHS Test And Trace

Paul Waugh

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Just 70% of “close contacts” of people with Covid-19 are being reached and asked to self isolate by NHS Test and Trace, new figures have revealed.

The percentage is the lowest since the scheme began in late May and represents another fall week on week. The figure stood at 90% in week one.

Overall, the test-and-trace system has slightly improved its reach among the number of people who test positive for the virus, but just under a quarter are still not being reached.

It is understood that the reason for the drop in “close contacts” being reached - defined as those who spend more than 15 minutes less than two metres away from a suspected case - is because the virus is now among the wider community rather than just NHS hospitals and care homes.

People living or working in NHS, social care or even prisons - described as “complex cases” - can more easily identify their range of contacts than individuals in the community who contract the virus. Without a fully functioning app, the task of identifying unknown contacts is more difficult.

The latest figures also appeared to show that Boris Johnson’s ambition of getting most covid tests turned around within 24 hours by the end of June is unlikely to be met.

The proportion of tests done within the one day time frame was 91%, although on the measure of being completed “by the end of the next day” the figure jumped to 97%.

As the figures are compiled for a whole week - between of June 25 and July 1 - it remains unclear what the figure was on June 30. Next week’s statistics will confirm whether the target has been met.

The proportion of tests being completed within 24 hours has improved week on week.

The current average Covid-19 testing turnaround time in the NHS pathology laboratories is 12 hours, up from 14 hours last week.  And 97% of NHS labs have an average test turnaround time of under 24 hours, up from 90% last week.

According to the latest figures overall for the week to July 1, of the people who tested positive for covid, some 3,366 people (77.4%) were reached and asked to provide details of recent close contacts.

Some 2,552 people (75.8%) provided details for one or more recent close contacts and 814 people (24.2%) said that they had no recent close contacts. Some 842 people (19.4%) could not be reached. An additional 139 people (3.2%) could not be reached at all because no communications details were provided for them.

For the whole period since the system first started four weeks ago, 31,421 people had their case transferred to the contact tracing system, of whom 23,796 (75.7%) were reached and asked to provide details of their recent close contacts.

In that period, 144,501(85.1%) close contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate through the contract tracing system out of 169,863 people identified.

Under the system, anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 is advised to give their own details and then to inform tracers of those they have spent more than 15 minutes with at a distance of less than two metres in the previous two days.

When people cannot be reached the reasons are either because their details are incorrect, or there was no response to calls, texts and email.

The NHS Test and Trace programme, launched in late May, has been hailed by Boris Johnson as a “world-beating” system to contain the spread of coronavirus as lockdown restrictions are eased.

No.10 stressed that fewer people were testing positive overall and fewer contacts therefore identified. The NHS is using reminder text messages and phone calls to increase the number reached.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “NHS Test and Trace is a large scale service which has been set up from scratch and designed to help us contain the virus and save lives.

“We have now reached more than 144,000 close contacts who may otherwise have unknowingly spread the virus.

“Test and Trace is doing significant work. As the PM and Baroness Harding have said, this is a service that will improve over time.”

He added that the government was “making significant progress” with 97.% of in-person tests returned “the next day” and 91% returned within 24 hours.

“This is a huge increase from the first week of the service when 65%..were being returned within 48 hours.”

In the past week Harding has admitted there is a problem with public awareness of the fact that everyone can now get a test.

NHS surveys found that less than half the population are aware they are now eligible for tests, with “financial” worries about lost income among the reasons for people not engaging with self-isolation.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said: “These figures show the Chancellor’s economic recovery plan is built on sand.

“Having an effective Test and Trace system is absolutely critical to controlling this pandemic and getting the economy moving again. Yet we seem to be going backwards not forwards as hundreds of people with coronavirus are still being missed each week.”

However the government believes that the failing number of cases in the NHS and care homes is a positive development and that the figures reflect the change in mix of cases in the community.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.