Test and Trace struggling to reach more than 60% of contacts, data shows

The NHS Test and Trace system is continuing to struggle to reach much more than 60% of the close contacts of people who test positive for the virus, new data shows.

Government figures published on Thursday show 60.4% of close contacts in England were reached through Test and Trace in the week ending November 4.

This is up very slightly from 60.2% in the previous week, and is also just above the all-time low of 60.1% for the week to October 14.

But it is also the fourth week in a row the figure has been around 60%, having dropped from 77.2% during the week ending September 16.

For cases managed by local health protection teams, 99.1% of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week to November 4.

For those managed either online or by call centres, 59.0% of close contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate.

The data also shows 149,253 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to November 4 – the highest weekly number since NHS Test and Trace was launched at the end of May and an increase of 8% in positive cases on the previous seven days.

A total of 37.6% of people who were tested for Covid-19 in England in the week ending November 4 at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit – a so-called “in-person” test – received their result within 24 hours.

This is up from 26.4% in the previous week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had pledged that by the end of June, the results of all in-person tests would be back within 24 hours.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

He told the House of Commons on June 3 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”.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the service had contacted a record 120,512 people who had tested positive for the virus and asked for details of recent close contacts in the week to November 4.

This was 85% of the total number of people transferred into the contact tracing system, up slightly from 84.1% the previous week and the highest proportion since the service launched.

Some 13.2% of people transferred to Test and Trace in the week to November 4 were not reached, while a further 1.9% did not provide any communication details.

The DHSC said there are 650 test sites operating across England, including almost 300 local walk-through testing sites, meaning the average distance to a test centre has nearly halved since September to a median distance of 2.7 miles.

Dido Harding
Dido Harding

It said the Test and Trace service is working to expand capacity in test sites and laboratories, and added that the mass testing pilot in Liverpool and the announcement that local areas will have access to rapid testing shows the Government’s commitment to making it easier to get tested and reduce the time it takes to receive results.

Baroness Dido Harding, interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, said: “Alongside behavioural changes, like washing hands, wearing face coverings and following governmental guidelines on social distancing, NHS Test and Trace is a valuable tool to stop transmission and drive down the R rate.

“Despite increasing numbers of positive cases, NHS Test and Trace is reaching more people and doing so more quickly.

“Ultimately, this means we are finding the virus where it hides and breaking chains of transmission to keep people safe.”

The DHSC also said that from next week, under-18s in a household will not each have to be contact traced individually as long as the parent or guardian in the household confirms they have completed their legal duty to inform their child to self-isolate.