Proportion of English COVID-19 contacts traced remains near record lows

FILE PHOTO: A social distancing sign is seen at the entrance to Manchester Piccadilly station is seen amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Manchester, Britain, November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Molly Darlington

LONDON (Reuters) - The proportion of contacts of positive COVID-19 cases reached by England’s test and trace system remains nears record lows, official figures showed on Thursday, although a growing number of infected people are being processed by the scheme.

The scheme reported that around 60% of contacts of positive cases were reached in the latest week. That is the same proportion it has reached each week for the last month, and far short of an 80% target.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who once promised a “world-beating” test and trace system, admitted a week ago that the scheme had not had the impact he wanted, but said it was improving.

The NHS Test and Trace scheme was hit by big computer problems in October, the Guardian newspaper reported. The health department said a miscalculation occurred in the processing of a very small proportion of records, which had now been corrected.

“We continue to work tirelessly to make the service quicker and more effective every day,” a health department spokesman said.

There were 141,804 people transferred to the contact tracing system between Oct 29 and Nov 4, and 85% of positive cases were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts, a record number of cases and up from 82.7% reported for the previous week.

“Despite increasing numbers of positive cases, NHS Test and Trace is reaching more people and doing so more quickly,” head of the scheme Dido Harding said.

However, of the 314,817 people were identified as coming into close contact with someone who had tested positive, 60.4% were reached and asked to self-isolate, still little changed from the 59.6% record low reported last month.

Positive COVID-19 cases in England rose 8% on the previous week, the same weekly rate of increase as before.

Reporting by Alistair Smout. Editing by Andrew MacAskill and William James