England test-and-trace delays blamed for spread of Indian Covid variant | Coronavirus

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Downing Street has confirmed there was what it called “a short delay” in tracking down the contacts of people who tested positive for coronavirus for several weeks, a failure being blamed for assisting the spread of the variant first identified in India.

According to local public health reports seen by the BBC, the shortfalls in the test-and-trace system during April and May affected eight local authorities in England, including Blackburn with Darwen, one of the areas most closely linked with the India variant.

This involved more than 700 positive cases not initially being reported to local officials, the BBC said.

Blackburn with Darwen had the biggest single number of cases where local authorities did not have access to full data on positive tests to allow them to track down contacts who might have been exposed to the virus.

Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said: “There was a short delay when asking some of those positive cases to provide details of individuals they had contacted since contracting Covid.

“This issue was across a small number of local authority areas and was quickly resolved.” All positive cases had been contacted and told to self-isolate, he added.

The IT glitch meant some local authorities were not able to follow up infectious people for about three weeks, between 21 April and 14 May, when cases linked to the India variant began rising sharply.

One local government source said it took at least two weeks for the problem to be resolved and resulted in some areas getting a “huge download” of hundreds of cases earlier this week, by which time the 10-day isolation period had ended for most of those people.

It is understood a “coding error” in the test-and-trace system meant positive cases were not automatically transferred to the Contact Tracing Advisory Service (CTAS), which local authorities use to follow up infected people.

It meant health officials on the ground were not able to help people self-isolate or trace the people they had been in close contact with, allowing the more transmissible India variant to spread more widely.

One local health official said the glitch had worsened the outbreak in their area: “The numbers of cases are almost irrelevant here. What’s clear is that there are systemic and operational failures in both the national system we’ve got to identify the risks from inward travel, and secondly failures in the management of test and trace.

“Both of those together should be giving a very stark warning that at the moment, despite the fact we’ve opened up international travel, our systems are not robust enough to manage that.”

One report by local public health officials said the delays appeared to have exacerbated the spread of the B.1.617.2 variant of coronavirus, which is thought to be more transmissible, and thus a potential threat to plans to lift most lockdown restrictions in England next month.


How England’s Covid lockdown is being lifted


Step 1, part 1

In effect from 8 March, all pupils and college students returned fully. Care home residents could receive one regular, named visitor. 

Step 1, part 2

In effect from 29 March, outdoor gatherings allowed of up to six people, or two households if this is larger, not just in parks but also gardens.
Outdoor sport for children and adults allowed.
The official stay at home order ended, but people encouraged to stay local.
People still asked to work from home where possible, with no overseas travel allowed beyond the current small number of exceptions.

Step 2

In effect from 12 April, non-essential retail, hair and nail salons, and some public buildings such as libraries and commercial art galleries  reopened. Most outdoor venues can reopen, including pubs and restaurants, but only for outdoor tables and beer gardens. Customers will have to be seated but there will be no need to have a meal with alcohol.

Also reopen are settings such as zoos and theme parks. However, social contact rules still apply here, so no indoor mixing between households and limits on outdoor mixing.
Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools can also open, but again people can only go alone or with their own household.
Reopening of holiday lets with no shared facilities is also allowed, but only for one household.
Funerals can have up to 30 attendees, while weddings, receptions and wakes can have 15.

Step 3

From 17 May people can be able to meet indoors in groups of up to six or as two households, or outdoors in groups of up to 30 people. People can also choose whether to socially distance with close family and friends, meaning that they can sit close together and hug. In care homes, residents can have up to five named visitors and be entitled to make low risk visits out of the home.

People can meet in private homes, or in pubs, bars and restaurants, which will all be able to reopen indoors. Weddings, receptions and other life events can take place with up to 30 people. The cap on numbers attending funerals will depend on the size of the venue.

Most forms of indoor entertainment where social distancing is possible will also be able to resume, including cinemas, museums and children’s play areas. Theatres, concert halls, conference centres and sports stadia will have capacity limits in place.

Organised adult sport and exercise classes can resume indoors and saunas and steam rooms will reopen. Hotels, hostels and B&Bs in the UK will allow overnight stays in groups of up to six people or two households.

People will also be able to travel to a small number of countries on the green list and will not have to quarantine on return.

Pupils will no longer be expected to wear face coverings in classrooms or in communal areas in secondary schools and colleges as a result of decreasing infection rates. Twice weekly home testing will remain in place. School trips with overnight stays will also now be possible.

Step 4

No earlier than 21 June, the government had planned that all legal limits would be removed on mixing, and the last sectors to remain closed, such as nightclubs, would reopen. Large events would be able take place. However, the prime minister has said that the rise of the B.1.617.2 variant of coronavirus first detected in India may threaten this date, and health secretary Matt Hancock said it will not be confirmed before 14 June whether the government plans to stick to the timetable.

Peter Walker Political correspondent and Rachel Hall

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The report, quoted by the BBC, said “the rapid spread of Indian variant cases … may be partially or largely attributable to risks in the international travel control system”. It added: “These were exacerbated by the sporadic failure of the national test-and-trace system.”

But Johnson’s spokesperson rejected this, saying: “The spread of the variant will be down to a number of factors. This was an issue that occurred across a small number of local authority areas, so I don’t think it’s possible to draw that conclusion from this.”

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said it “beggars belief that yet again local health experts on the ground have been left in the dark for two weeks when we know acting with speed is vital to containing an outbreak”.

He said: “Ministers need to explain what’s gone wrong and provide local health directors with all the resources they need to push infections down.”

Separately, Downing Street has indicated it has no plan to publish the data behind a contested claim by Matt Hancock explaining why other countries were put on the “red list” for travel before India.

On Wednesday, the health secretary was challenged in the Commons to explain earlier comments that when Pakistan and Bangladesh were put on the red list, the Covid positivity rate for people arriving in the UK from those countries was three times as high as for people coming from India, an assertion not seemingly backed up by official statistics.

Hancock replied that at the time the positivity rate in India was 1.6%, against 4.6% in Pakistan, indicating he seemed to be referring to domestic statistics and not those for people arriving in the UK.

Asked for more details, Johnson’s spokesperson referred reporters to the health department. On being told the health department was refusing to give any more information, the spokesperson said Hancock had “set that out clearly in the house”.

Ministers are still considering whether they will have to dilute plans for unlocking on 21 June, as figures showed another sharp UK increase in the B.1.617.2 variant.

The number of confirmed cases of the variant uncovered in Britain had risen to 2,967, Hancock said on Wednesday. That was up 28% in two days, from 2,323 on Monday.

Areas affected by the variant have been targeted with increased testing and a push to vaccinate more people locally.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: England test-and-trace delays blamed for spread of Indian Covid variant | Coronavirus

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