'Independent group says Test and Trace scheme is 'not fit for purpose'

‘Independent SAGE’ group says UK’s Test and Trace scheme is ‘not fit for purpose’ and urges ministers to overhaul system that will ‘help not hinder’ country’s recovery

  • Experts have argued system is ‘severely constrained by lack of co-ordination’  
  • Say virus will only be contained if 80 per cent of contacts of infected are traced 
  • The independent Sage group have now urged ministers to overhaul the system
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

The UK’s Test and Trace programme which is aimed at breaking the chain of transmission as quickly as possible is ‘not fit for purpose’, an independent group of scientists have claimed. 

The group of 12 experts, led by former Government chief scientific adviser Sir David King, who now leads the independent SAGE group, have argued that the system is ‘severely constrained by ‘lack of co-ordination, lack of trust’ and a ‘lack of evidence of utility’.

The scientists say that Covid-19 will only be contained if 80 per cent of the contacts of infected people are traced and contacted but they think this is ‘impossible’ under the current centralised system using 25,000 contact tracers. 

The independent Sage group have now urged ministers to overhaul the system designed to help the country out of the coronavirus lockdown. 

An independent group of scientists have said the UK’s Test and Trace programme is ‘not fit for purpose’. Pictured: Commuters wear masks as they travel on the Tube

Sir David King, who now leads the independent SAGE group,  has urged ministers to overhaul the system

Sir David said this is the ‘critical moment for the Government to act now or risk further spikes’ and the group believe a tracing and isolating system led by local health bodies would be more effective. 

In their report into test and trace, released today, the experts say the approach is ‘severely constrained by lack of co-ordination, lack of trust, lack of evidence of utility’, and contacts being found and isolating for 14 days ‘is clearly not happening’.

The group, known as Independent Sage, was set up after the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) had faced criticism over not being transparent.

Sir David added: ‘The Government has placed huge emphasis on their test, track and trace system in recent weeks, even labelling it ”world beating”.

‘It is clear from our research that this simply isn’t the case, indeed the system as it stands is not fit for purpose.’

He continued: ‘We are calling on the Government to urgently rethink their course to ensure that we have a system in place that will help and not hinder the country’s recovery.’ 

Under the Track and Trace scheme, Britons who have been in close contact with infected patients are being told to self-isolate for 14 days, even if they are asymptomatic.

The scheme will require anyone who develops symptoms associated with the coronavirus to get tested  by ordering a test online or by calling 119.

The Test and Trace scheme requires anyone who has been in close contact with an infected person to  self-isolate for 14 days

The new NHSX app uses Bluetooth technology to alert people when they’ve been close to a Covid-19 patient

If a patient tests positive they must remain in isolation and will be asked to share phone numbers and email addresses for close contacts. 

Those who are listed will then receive a text message or email asking them to self-isolate for 14 days depending on the point at which they came in contact with the infected person.       

The system is designed to break the chain of transmission as quickly as possible in order to squash potential outbreaks and stop them from escalating. 

Earlier today Sage scientist Professor Susan Michie, a psychologist at University College London, criticised the Government’s decision to leave out the word ‘isolate’ from its coronavirus Test and Trace programme, claiming it would lead to less compliance.

Professor Michie, who is also director of UCL’s Centre for Behaviour Change, said isolating cases was the most vital part of the system and not including it in the title of the UK’s flagship scheme was ‘puzzling’. 

She told the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee today: ‘The other thing that is very puzzling to me is why the government has called it Test and Trace, when the World Health Organization (WHO) and many other countries call it Test, Trace and Isolate.

‘Because without isolation all of the rest of it is for nothing. We absolutely need the isolation. And if one doesn’t have it in the label of the system, it’s not communicating that this is a vital part of it.

‘We already know there are going to be really big difficulties with isolation if people are being asked to stay home for 14 days and not go to work, this is a big financial penalty.’

Today figures from the Department of Health showed that Britain’s coronavirus death toll today jumped by 286, with 277 of the Covid-19 victims from England and nine from Wales.

What is the NHS Test and Trace system? 

Anyone who develops Covid-associated symptoms is being told to self-isolate and get tested under the test and trace scheme.

Close contacts of those who are found to be positive for the disease are then told to quarantine for 14 days – even if they test negative and are not sick. 

Boris Johnson’s government has hired an enormous army of 50,000 people who will attempt to make this huge undertaking possible. 

Around 25,000 are contact tracers who will contact people who return positive coronavirus tests to grill them on their movements and their known associates. 

The idea is to build a picture of who they have come into contact with and so who might be at risk of a) becoming ill and b) passing it on to more people.    

Another 25,000 people in the scheme are testers, who will go out into the community and test these known associates.

Either way, these known associates will be under orders to immediately quarantine, even if the tests they return are negative.  

Baroness Dido Harding, executive chairwoman of NHS Test and Trace, said the scheme was central to easing the lockdown further.

She said: ‘NHS Test and Trace is designed to enable the vast majority of us to be able to get on with our lives in a much more normal way. 

‘We will be trading national lockdown for individual isolation if we have symptoms.

‘Instead of 60 million people being in national lockdown, a much smaller number of us will be told we need to stay at home, either for seven days if we are ill or 14 days if we have been in close contact.’ 

The UK’s coronavirus tracing programme will be split into two parts.

  • Part One: 

People will be ordered to self-isolate for seven days if they develop symptoms. Anyone in the same household will have to do the same. 

Those people should then order a coronavirus test online or by calling 119. This will be available for residents in Wales from Saturday.

If a test is positive, that victim must complete seven days in isolation. If the test comes back negative, no one needs to self-isolate.

However, people with a positive test for Covid-19 will then be contacted via text message or email or by phone and told to answer questions.

They will be asked to share phone numbers and email addresses for close contacts.

For those under 18, they will receive a call from the team and a parent or guardian must give permission for the call to continue. 

  • Part Two:

People who have been listed as a person with whom a coronavirus victim has had close contact will receive a text message or an email.

They will then be asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days based on when they last came into contact with that person.

Other household members do not need to self-isolate unless symptoms are present.

If they develop Covid-associated symptoms, all other household members should self-isolate and they should then order a test.

If the test is positive, self-isolation must continue for seven days. If the test is negative, that person should still complete 14 days in case the virus is not showing.

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