Thursday, 22 Oct 2020

‘Shambolic’ glitch sees Brits on edge as thousands of Covid cases unreported

Thousands of Brits will be on alert after a technical computer glitch which saw thousands of Covid-19 cases go unreported was branded “shambolic”.

Blundering officials at Public Health England admitted it failed to count 15,841 positive cases between September 25 and October 2.

Red-faced bosses said the outstanding cases were transferred to Test and Trace “immediately” after thousands of potentially infected Brits faced a delay in being told to isolate.

All cases were based to tracers by 1am on Sunday – meaning delays of more than a week in contacting hoards of Brits who had potentially been exposed to the virus.

The glitch was reportedly caused by data files reporting positive cases being too big – exceeding the maximum size for a file.

The blunder meant that the Government’s coronavirus dashboard over the last week has been far lower than the true number.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "This is shambolic and people across the country will be understandably alarmed.

"Matt Hancock should come to the House of Commons on Monday to explain what on earth has happened, what impact it has had on our ability to contain this virus and what he plans to do to fix test and trace."

On Saturday, Professor Graham Medley, an attendee of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, tweeted: "Reporting delays play havoc with data streams and make them very difficult to analyse in real time.

"If the delays change or vary by group then they can distort a lot. Wonder what these will do to the R estimates next week"

On October 2, 4,786 cases which were due to be reported were not included in the daily total on the dashboard that day, when the figure was given as 6,968.

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The Government's dashboard said that, as of 9am on Sunday, there had been a further 22,961 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to 502,978.

A note on the dashboard said: "The cases by publish date for 3 and 4 October include 15,841 additional cases with specimen dates between 25 September and 2 October – they are therefore artificially high for England and the UK."

Michael Brodie, the interim chief executive at PHE, said the "technical issue" was identified overnight on Friday, October 2, in the data load process that transfers Covid-19 positive lab results into reporting dashboards.

"NHS Test and Trace and PHE have worked to quickly resolve the issue and transferred all outstanding cases immediately into the NHS Test and Trace contact tracing system and I would like to thank contact tracing and health protection colleagues for their additional efforts over the weekend," he said.

PHE said NHS Test and Trace have made sure that there are more than enough contact tracers working, and are working with local Health Protection Teams to ensure they also have sufficient resources to be urgently able to contact all cases.

The number of call attempts is being increased from 10 to 15 over 96 hours.

Test and Trace and Public Health England joint medical adviser Susan Hopkins said: "All outstanding cases were immediately transferred to the contact tracing system by 1am on 3 October and a thorough public health risk assessment was undertaken to ensure outstanding cases were prioritised for contact tracing effectively."

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