The government paid a host of social media influencers to promote the NHS Test and Trace service.
Instagram stars like former Love Island star Shaughna Phillips were paid an undisclosed amount to create content touting the system during lockdown, as part of a wider campaign to inform the public about the programme.
A government spokesman said: “Our use of social media influencers has meant over seven million people have been reached.
“As a responsible government we will use every means possible to keep the public informed during the pandemic and raise awareness of NHS Test and Trace.
“This is just one part of a wider campaign utilising TV, radio, social, print and other advertisements to ensure the public has the information it needs.”
No costs for the campaign have been published, but the government insisted that they would be in due course.
Dozens of influencers including former Love Island contestants Shaughna Phillips, Chris Hughes and Josh Denzel made paid posts marked as ads, with the hashtags “#gettested” and “#letsgetback”.
Phillips, who has 1.5 million Instagram followers, posted on 17 August saying she wished to remind her audience “about the importance of coronavirus testing”, adding that being tested was “totally free, quick and is vital to stop the spread”.
Denzel and Hughes both published similar content – emphasising that the public needs to “do its part”.
But Phillips and Hughes have also both posted images online in the last month which showed them failing to socially distance from others on Mediterranean islands.
The celebrities could also face an investigation by the Advertising Standards Agency after not initially labelling their posts as advertisements.
Influencers with more than a million followers can earn up to $20,000 per post, social insights firm Captiv8 estimate.
It comes after recent data showed three-quarters of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 were reached through the Test and Trace system, once again falling short of the Government’s target.
Some 75.5% of close contacts in England were reached in the week ending August 19. While this is up from 71.6% in the previous week, it is the ninth week in a row where the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) target of isolating 80% of contacts of coronavirus cases within 48-72 hours has been missed.
Ahead of the figures being published, Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged the system was “not quite there”.
Since you are here
Since you are here, we wanted to ask for your help.
Journalism in Britain is under threat. The government is becoming increasingly authoritarian and our media is run by a handful of billionaires, most of whom reside overseas and all of them have strong political allegiances and financial motivations.
Our mission is to hold the powerful to account. It is vital that free media is allowed to exist to expose hypocrisy, corruption, wrongdoing and abuse of power. But we can't do it without you.
If you can afford to contribute a small donation to the site it will help us to continue our work in the best interests of the public. We only ask you to donate what you can afford, with an option to cancel your subscription at any point.
To donate or subscribe to The London Economic, click here.
The TLE shop is also now open, with all profits going to supporting our work.
The shop can be found here.
You can also SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER .