In U.K.’s Test and Trace: Now You See ’em, Now You Don’t

Nearly 16,000 people who tested positive for the coronavirus disappeared from the records, another embarrassing failure for a much-criticized effort.

transcript

‘This Incident Should Never Have Happened,’ Hancock Says

Nearly 16,000 people who tested positive for the coronavirus were not recorded in Britain’s daily number of reported cases for a test and trace program.

Mr. Speaker, I want to take the first available opportunity to set out to the House the technical issue around case uploads discovered by Public Health England on Friday evening. This is an ongoing incident, and I come to the House straight from an operational update from my officials. On Friday night, Public Health England identified that over the previous eight days, 15,841 positive test results were not included in the reported daily cases. This was due to a failure in the automated transfer files from the labs to P.H.E.’s data systems. Mr. Speaker, this incident should never have happened. But the team have acted swiftly to minimize its impact, and now, it is critical that we work together to put this right, and to make sure that it never happens again. I want to reassure the House that outbreak control in care homes, schools and hospitals has not been directly affected because dealing with outbreaks in these settings does not primarily rely on this particular P.H.E. system. The chief medical officer has analyzed that our assessment of the disease and its impact has not substantially changed as a result of these data, and the J.B.C. has confirmed that this has not impacted the basis on which decisions about local action were taken last week. Nevertheless this is a serious issue, which is being investigated fully.



By Mark Landler and Benjamin Mueller

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “world beating” test-and-trace program has been dogged by technical glitches, overburdened laboratories and poorly trained contact tracers. Now, add to that a data-entry error more likely to trip up an amateur bookkeeper than the public health service of the world’s sixth-largest economy.

Nearly 16,000 people who tested positive for the coronavirus between Sept. 25 and Oct. 2 were not recorded in the nation’s daily number of reported cases, producing an artificially low picture of the spread of the virus and delaying efforts to trace those with whom the infected people had been in contact.

The disclosure brought a storm of criticism on the Johnson government, which has been on the defensive for its haphazard handling of the pandemic since March, when Mr. Johnson hesitated for days before imposing a nationwide lockdown. More than 57,000 people have died from the virus in Britain, the highest number in Europe, and the country is now facing a second wave of infections.

“This incident should never have happened,” the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said to Parliament on Monday, promising that the government would conduct an investigation and upgrade its outmoded computer systems.

That did not mollify the opposition Labour Party, which seized on the latest glitch as evidence of the government’s serial incompetence. “This isn’t just a shambles,” said the Labour shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, jabbing his finger at Mr. Hancock. “It is so much worse than this.”

For a pandemic-ravaged country, the computer error was not the only bit of unnerving news. Government officials said that fewer than half of Britons should expect to be vaccinated, even after a vaccine was widely available.

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