The government’s coronavirus contact tracing site suffered a technical on its launch this morning amid complaints it has been a ‘complete shambles,’ raising concerns about opening up the economy and sending children back to school on June 1st.
Doctors and other staff reported teething troubles as the much-trumpeted scheme finally got up and running, with some saying they had not even received passwords to start work.
One contact tracer told LBC radio it had been a ‘complete shambles’ so far, and they had not received their logon details for the site.
Ministers have been warned up to two million people could be in isolation at any given time, with concerns that people may have to quarantine more than once, if they are unlucky enough to come into contact with someone who has coronavirus or potentially displaying symptoms.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson has warned “very key bits” of the Government’s test and trace strategy are not yet in place as the scheme is set to begin.
NHS Test and Trace will officially launch across England on Thursday with the help of 25,000 contact tracers, although an accompanying app is still delayed by several weeks.
People with coronavirus will have their contacts traced under the scheme, which aims to cut off routes of transmission for the virus and control local flare-ups.
Mr Hopson said he was pleased the Government had watered down claims it had a “world class” test and trace system ready to start from June 1, “because we clearly don’t”.
But he said Thursday would bring significant change to the country’s test and trace capabilities.
“We’re in the process of building test and trace,” Mr Hopson told BBC Newsnight.
“There will be a group of contact tracers who will be ready (Thursday) morning but there are still very key bits of test and trace that still need to be built.”
Mr Hopson said the speed of testing needed to be improved, comparing international standards of having tests back within 24 hours with reports of tests taking up to three to five days, as well as referencing the need to provide support locally.
“It was good to hear the Prime Minister and Matt Hancock say today that we are actually going to have to build this up over the next few weeks and we’re not going to be running at the speed we need to on the first of June,” he said.
He added: “Can I just give a very clear public health message, which is that everybody who’s watching the programme should ensure that they understand what their responsibilities are because things are going to change from nine o’clock tomorrow morning.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged the public to carry out their “civic duty” and make the new test and trace system work – saying the only other option is continuing the lockdown.
Mr Hancock told Wednesday’s press briefing: “The big question that we’re all working to answer is this: until an effective treatment or vaccine comes through how can we get back to doing more of the things that make life worth living without risking safety or putting lives at risk?
“NHS Test and Trace is a big part – not the only part – but a big part of the answer to that question.”
Mr Hancock said that by tracking infected people and isolating their contacts, and by continuing social distancing, the national lockdown could be replaced with individual isolation.
“This is a national effort and we all have a role”, he added.
“The virus exists only to reproduce – that’s its sole biological purpose, to make as many copies of itself as possible.
“If we can thwart that purpose, we can control the virus and ultimately defeat it.
“We must all follow the NHS test and trace instructions as this is how we control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.”
Under the plans, anyone with coronavirus symptoms will immediately self-isolate and book a test, preferably at a testing centre or, if necessary, for delivery to their home. Their household should start a 14-day isolation period too.
If the test proves negative, the household comes out of isolation.
But if the test is positive, NHS contact tracers or local public health teams will call them, email or send a text asking them to share details of the people they have been in close contact with and places they have visited.
The team then emails or texts those close contacts, telling them they must stay home for 14 days even if they have no symptoms, to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus.
Their household members do not need to isolate at this point.
If the contact themselves then falls ill, they book themselves a test.
If this is positive, they stay home for seven days or until their symptoms have passed, and their household stays home for 14 days.
If it is negative, the contact must still complete their initial 14-day isolation period.
A close contact is defined as anybody who has been in close contact with an infected person in the two days before symptoms appear and up to seven days afterwards.
This includes people in the same household, those who have been within one metre, or who have been within two metres for 15 minutes or more.
Whilst the scheme will be voluntary at first, the Health Secretary indicated the Government could move to forcing people to comply with the scheme if needs be, with fines being one possibility.
A DHSC spokesperson said: “The system has not crashed. Anyone in the country can log on and book a test if they have symptoms and we have tracers logged on to do their vital work to help stop the spread of coronavirus and save lives.
“As with all large scale operations of this kind, some staff did initially encounter issues logging on to their systems and these are rapidly being resolved.”