Third of new coronavirus cases not reached by contact tracers, data reveals

James Morris
Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
An NHS Test and Trace advert in Birmingham. A third of new COVID-19 cases were not contacted in its first week. (In Pictures via Getty Images)

A third of new COVID-19 cases were not contacted under the government’s coronavirus tracing system in its first week, according to data.

In total, 8,117 people had their cases transferred between 28 May and 3 June. Of these, 5,407 (67%) were reached and asked to provide details of recent contacts, while 2,710 (33%) were not reached.

From 31,794 contacts who were subsequently identified, 26,985 (85%) were reached and advised to self-isolate. The remaining 4,809 (15%) were not contacted.

Test and trace chief Baroness Harding, responding to the figures, admitted the programme was not yet at the “gold standard” but said it was now a “functioning service”.

“You can absolutely see the path of how we are going to get there,” she said, promising it “will get better through the summer”.

NHS test and trace launched on 28 May. In its first week, up to 3 June, a further 10,729 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK.

Under the system, which is viewed as key to lifting the lockdown and has seen 25,000 people recruited, phone operatives are told to call people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and ask who they have had contact with.

These people are subsequently called and, if necessary, instructed to self-isolate to restrict the spread of the virus.

On its launch day, there were widespread reports of technical issues with test and trace. One tracer on nearly £20 an hour told Yahoo News UK she was unable to do any work during her four-hour shift as she wasn’t able to log in to the system.

On Friday, the same tracer told this website she was finally able to log in. Again, however, she was unable to do any work because she wasn’t given any cases to deal with.

The tracer, who didn’t want to be named, said she was told by a helpline official “that they have recruited all these people, but there’s not enough work for them to do”.

A Department of Health and Social Care source had insisted “volume will pick up”, adding: “We have rolled it out at great pace from absolute zero. We are in quite a good place with it.”

Coronavirus: what happened today

Click here to sign up to the latest news, advice and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter

Read more about COVID-19

How to get a coronavirus test if you have symptoms
How easing of lockdown rules affects you
In pictures: How UK school classrooms could look in new normal
How public transport could look after lockdown
How our public spaces will change in the future

Help and advice

Read the full list of official FAQs here
10 tips from the NHS to help deal with anxiety
What to do if you think you have symptoms
How to get help if you've been furloughed