Coronavirus: NHS Test and Trace figures due as PM defends system

The Government is due to publish the latest data from its coronavirus test and trace service as the Prime Minister continues to defend it from criticism.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) is expected to release figures for England on Thursday the NHS Test and Trace Service between June 11 and 17, its third week of operation.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted the system is a “cluster-busting operation” that would quickly tackle any localised Covid-19 outbreaks after he was challenged by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over a discrepancy between the estimated number of coronavirus cases in the UK and those covered by test and trace.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to give a date on when the controversial test and trace app would be made available, but said the Government is “going to make it work”.

Speaking to ITV’s Robert Peston on Wednesday night about how the app will work, Mr Hancock said people will have to “self-declare” to the NHS if their phone informs them they have been close to someone who has tested positive.

He said: “I’m not going to put a date on it, I want it to work, I’m really glad now that we’ve got Apple, are working really well, and I’m very grateful to them for coming to the table, and we’re going to make it work.”

HEALTH Coronavirus infographic
(PA Graphics)

Asked if he supported a “what have we learned” inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic, Mr Hancock said: “Well we’re constantly doing that sort of thinking … I haven’t seen that proposal … All I care about is constantly finding out what works, and adapting our response to it, because we are still learning about this virus.”

Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reported the Government will announce next week that pupils will not be expected to adhere to social distancing while in school.

Schools will instead be asked to focus on introducing strict hygiene regimes and limiting the time children mix with others outside their class or year group.

Responding to the article, the Department for Education said it would publish “further information and guidance next week to help schools prepare for a full return in September”.

The Sun reported that the first set of so-called “air-bridges” are to be announced this weekend, detailing holiday destinations where Britons can fly to from July 4.

France, Italy and Spain are all expected to be included in the first tranche of bridges as they are deemed to be “safe nations”, the newspaper reported.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Meanwhile, the Government is braced for more bleak financial news as the Office for National Statistics is due to publish the latest indicators for the UK economy later on Thursday.

In other developments:

– The Scottish Government intends to allow outdoor hospitality such as beer gardens to reopen on Monday July 6, non-essential shops within indoor shopping centres to reopen from July 13, and households will be able to meet indoors with people from up to two other households from July 15.

– Labour is calling for NHS staff to undergo weekly testing for coronavirus in order to ensure waiting list backlogs can be safely cleared, a demand echoed by Jeremy Hunt in a column in The Daily Telegraph.

– Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said a key consideration in agreeing travel corridors with other countries is whether they had “something equivalent to our NHS Test and Trace system”.

– Health leaders called for an urgent review to ensure Britain is properly prepared for the “real risk” of a second wave of coronavirus.

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