Denis Campbell, Ben Quinn, Sarah Boseley, Josh Halliday and Robert Booth
Thu 17 Sep 2020
The coronavirus test and trace system was condemned as “barely functional” today as its tsar admitted that demand was up to four times capacity, while 90% of tests were failing to hit the 24-hour turnaround target.
The Guardian has seen documents showing tracers taking up to two weeks to contact friends, relatives and workmates of people diagnosed with Covid-19 – the entire length of the self-isolation period.
But amid growing anger and lengthening queues at testing centres, Dido Harding, head of the £10bn NHS test-and-trace programme designed to prevent a second wave of Covid-19, told MPs on Thursday: “I strongly refute that the system is failing.”
It came as sources said Leeds and Lancashire were expected to face enhanced lockdown measures, bringing the number of people subject to restrictions to more than 11 million, including nearly 2 million in north-east England. Official figures confirmed a 75% increase in positive weekly cases across England last week.
Just 1.9% of people using a home test kit in England got their results within 24 hours in the week to 9 September, according to official figures – the lowest percentage since test and trace was launched in May. Results from 33.3% of in-person tests were turned around within 24 hours, down from 66.5% the previous week, creating knock-on delays for contacts required to self-isolate.
Harding, who also heads the newly created National Institute for Health Protection, told MPs: “We made a conscious decision because of the large increase in demand to extend the turnaround time in order to process the number of tests in the last couple of weeks.”