Failures within England’s test-and-trace system are partly responsible for a surge in the Indian variant, a report seen by the BBC has said
For three weeks within both April and May, eight local authorities in England did not have full access to the test-and-trace data on positive COVID tests in their area.
The number of missing cases of the disease was highest in Blackburn with Darwen, Lancashire. A recent surge in COVID infections in the region has been linked to the Indian coronavirus variant.
The government said a “small number” of people in contact with those who tested positive for coronavirus had “experienced a temporary delay in getting a message from NHS Test and Trace”.
The other areas affected by what is thought to have been a technical glitch were Blackpool, York, Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock.
This comes after, delivering a statement on COVID-19 in the Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that 483 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, where the Indian variant is now the dominant strain of the disease.
Labour called on ministers to “explain what’s gone wrong”.
NHS Test and Trace, for which £37bn has been set aside – identifies people who have been in close contact with someone who has caught the coronavirus.
Between 21 April and 11 May, the system only provided details of a limited number of positive cases of coronavirus to the eight local authorities.
On 11 May, they were told by the Department of Health and Social Care that, over that period, 734 positive tests had not been reported.
According to a report by officials at one of the councils affected, the central test-and-trace system failed to notify its staff of cases, meaning their contacts could not be traced locally.
It says that “the rapid spread of Indian variant cases… may be partially or largely attributable to risks in the international travel control system”, adding: “These were exacerbated by the sporadic failure of the national Test and Trace system.”
Six of the local authorities affected have confirmed to the BBC that they experienced problems.
Although it is thought that the people tested were given their results, local authority staff were not provided with contact-tracing information through the central system.
Some 2,967 cases of the Indian variant – which is believed to spread more quickly than the Kent variant that caused the winter spike in infections – have now been identified in the UK.
This comes after a Doctors group in Japan has said that hospitals within the country’s capital of Tokyo are already currently overwhelmed and ‘have almost no spare capacity’, with calls to cancel the Olympic games.
The government added India to the “red list” of countries from which travellers must quarantine in a hotel on return on 23 April, two days after the problems with Test and Trace started.
While national contact-tracing teams should take on variant cases, identifying the particular variant can take up to two weeks.
In the meantime, local authority staff are often the first to make contacts with positive cases.
Where cases went unreported, they were also in many cases unable to offer support to isolating individuals.