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Experts warn UK government that unnecessary deaths will occur if lockdown is lifted before contact tracing system is implemented

Published on 18/06/20 at 11:58am
Photo by armelim nascimento

The British government is risking many unnecessary deaths if it lifts the lockdown before an effective contact tracing system is up and running, experts have warned.

The Independent Sage group has said that the current NHS Test and Trace system is not fit for purpose and the continued relaxation of the restrictions is premature, as the pandemic is still growing in certain parts of the country.

The group is chaired by former government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King, and also criticised the number of people that were reached by the NHS test and trace operation, which obtained contact details from just 5,407 people in a week where Office for National Statistics figures suggested there were at least 23,000 new symptomatic cases.

In their report last week, Sage warned that it would be impossible to use this system to reach the 80% of contacts necessary to bring the disease under control. The group suggested that an alternative be set up through local councils and NHS expertise, which would include support with food, finances and employment guarantees for all those asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

Sir David King said: “This is a critical moment for the country in its fight against Covid-19. As we see new outbreaks in countries with significantly less infection than us it is self-evident that a fully functional test and trace system is essential to the next phase. It is quite clear that the UK system is not yet fit for purpose, and indeed we have grave concerns that with the current approach it will never be so.”

“In this climate to continue to relax lockdown measures as we are seeing is foolhardy at best and risks significant further spikes with many unnecessary deaths.

“We are therefore calling on the government to share the scientific evidence that these decisions have been based on so that we can properly assess the decisions made and continue to work towards a common goal of ending this awful pandemic as quickly as possible.”

Data released today shows that one in four people who test positive for COVID-19 cannot be reached by the track and trace system in England. In the first two weeks of the operation to 10 June, the service was given the details for 14,000 people to follow up, but fewer than 10,200 could be reached. It is also not clear how many of these were contacted within 48 hours.

Conor Kavanagh

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