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Third of people with coronavirus not contacted by NHS Test and Trace as boss admits it is 'not gold standard'

The NHS Test and Tracing service was launched at the end of May (PA)

3 min read

A third of people in England diagnosed with coronavirus could not be contacted by the new NHS Test and Trace system, it has been revealed.

New figures released by the Department for Health show 5,407 people out of a total 8,117 who tested positive for the illness between 28 May and 3 June were reached by the new system, but 2,710 of them - 33% - were not reached. 

Of those, a total of 31,794 contacts were identified as being at potential risk of having contracted Covid-19, with 26,985 contacted and asked to self-isolate.

The statistics, the first to be released by the NHS Test and Trace scheme since it was set up, show 79% of those referred to it after being diagnosed were contacted within 24 hours and asked to provide details of those they had been in close proximity with.

Another 14% were contacted within two days, while 4% were not reached until at least three days after their diagnoses.

Baroness Dido Harding, the person in charge of the programme, said the numbers were “really very encouraging”, and showed a “very significant number of people are complying with the instructions”.

Asked about the failure to contact thousands of people who had tested positive, she defended the system as "very new and very large and complex".

"We’re not at the gold standard yet that we want to be, of isolating all contacts within 48 hours of someone requesting a test," she said.

"But you can absolutely see the path of how we’re going to get there.”

Asked if she was satisfied with the progress, she said: "I think we’re where we said we would be which is we have a functioning service that, just as the infection rate is coming down in the country, so is our capability to test and trace growing.

"Is it completely perfect? No of course it isn’t. Is there stuff we all need to do better? Yes there is. But I think it’s fit for purpose as we stand today and will get better through the summer."

Baroness Harding was unable to say how many people contacted and told to self-isolate had refused to comply with the request, saying: "This is not a mandatory process.

"I am a really firm believer in the good spirit and civic behaviour of the public and we have seen the public be extremely responsive and supportive.

"These are very good numbers for compliance and we want to encourage people to be part of the system rather than have them be fearful about what might happen to them as they go through it.

"The wonderful thing about the first week is that's what we have seen."

And the peer was unable to give a date for the launch of the nationwide tracing app, which was due to be released around a month ago.

Calling it the “the cherry on the cake”, the former TalkTalk boss said “it's not the cake itself and what you are seeing today is the first baking of the cake is going reasonably well".

She added: "This is a multi-channel consumer service, it's online, it's on the phone, it's face-to-face in local communities and, in time, it will have an app.”

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