A technical flaw that led to nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases not being reported has delayed efforts to trace contacts of people who tested positive.
Public Health England said 15,841 cases between 25 September and 2 October were excluded from the UK’s daily case numbers.
PHE said all those who tested positive have been informed. But this meant that the others they had close contact with were not.
PHE said the issue had been resolved, with the pending cases transmitted to trackers by 01:00 GMT on Saturday.
The technical issue also means that the totals for daily cases reported on the government’s coronavirus dashboard over the past week were lower than the real number.
BBC Health Editor Hugh Beam said the daily weekend numbers were “actually approaching 11,000,” not about 7,000 reported.
The Labor Party called this anomaly “a disgrace”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the case data was “broken” and “missing”, but added that all people who tested positive have been contacted and that the trackers “are now working through all communications.”
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At a time when the testing system is under intense scrutiny after reports of delays and a system struggling to keep up with demand, the latest revelations couldn’t have come at an even more embarrassing moment for the government in Westminster.
Since approximately 16,000 additional positive test results were not entered into the test and trace system, the last contacts were not immediately followed up.
Experts advise that contacts should be tracked perfectly within 48 hours.
Officials say the technical issue – believed to be IT related – has been resolved, with all new cases added to the totals reported over the weekend.
But all this will not improve the public’s confidence in the test system in England.
It also confuses water for policymakers and officials trying to track the spread of the virus in what the prime minister described as a “critical moment”.
On Sunday, the government’s Coronavirus Dashboard said that as of 09:00 GMT, there were another 22,961 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to 502,978.
Another 33 people were reported to have died within 28 days of the result of the Covid-19 virus test as of Sunday.
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England’s interim Chief Public Health Officer Michael Brody said an overnight “technical problem” had been identified on Friday, October 2 in the process that transmits positive lab results for Covid-19 to dashboards. He said the majority of unreported cases occurred in “recent days.”
The reason for this was because some data files reported positive test results that exceed the maximum file size.
Mr Brody said they worked with NHS Test and Trace “to quickly resolve the issue and promptly transfer all outstanding cases to the NHS Contact Tracking and Testing System”.
“We fully understand the concern this might cause and more robust measures have been taken as a result,” he said.
Susan Hopkins, the joint medical advisor for public health, testing and tracing in England, said a comprehensive risk assessment was undertaken “to ensure that outstanding cases are prioritized for effective contact tracing.”
PHE said NHS Test and Trace has made sure that there are enough contact tracing tools in place, and is working with local teams to ensure they also have enough resources to be able to contact all cases urgently.
The number of connection attempts increases from 10 to 15 in 96 hours.
There have been obvious issues with government testing and tracking data, but it doesn’t change our view of the UK’s trajectory.
Cases soared in early September, and may still be escalating, but not as rapidly As expected a few weeks ago.
This perspective comes from three main sets of data – the Office for National Statistics, the React study by Imperial College London and the Covid symptom tracking app.
Nobody gets corrupted by current issues with test and trace data or people struggling to access the test.
The real repercussions of the weekend’s statistical chaos are not the numbers, but the people who were supposed to have contact tracing, were asked to quarantine and instead may have been unwittingly transmitting the virus.
“This is a shame and people around the country will understandably upset,” said Jonathan Ashworth, Labor’s shadow health minister.
He called on Health Secretary Matt Hancock to explain “what happened on the ground” and what he plans to do to fix the test and trace.
Hancock is scheduled to brief MPs on the coronavirus on Monday afternoon.
Bridget Phillipson, shadow secretary at the Treasury Department, told the BBC she wanted to know whether it had “any influence on government decisions regarding domestic restrictions”.
PHE data shows that Manchester now has the highest infection rate in England, up 495.6 cases per 100,000 people in the week ending October 1, from 223.2 the previous week. Liverpool has the second-highest score of 456.4 out of 287.1 per 100,000. Knowsley in Merseyside, Newcastle, Nottingham, Leeds and Sheffield also saw sharp rises.
News of the flaw in the daily count first surfaced late Saturday, when the UK reported more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time since mass testing began.
From September 25 to October 2
50786 Cases initially reported by PHE
15,841 Unreported, missed cases due to IT bug
8 days From incomplete data
1980Cases per day were, on average, missed at the time
48 hoursThe ideal lead time to track contacts after a positive test
Source: PHE and gov.uk
The government said the technical issue meant that some cases during the week were not recorded at that time, so they were included in Saturday’s data.
The daily total rose from 4,044 on Monday to its highest level at that time at 7,143 on Tuesday. However, over the next four days, the daily total remained flat at a time when increases were expected to continue.
Then came the big jump in numbers – a much larger daily increase than at any time in the entire pandemic – which was announced on Saturday, five hours later than usual, and accompanied the government’s explanation.
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