The race is on to trace contacts of almost half of the thousands of positive coronavirus cases initially not recorded in England due to a technical glitch, as infection rates rise in northern university cities.
Some 49 per cent of the almost 16,000 cases had still not been reached for contact tracing purposes as of Monday morning, following data issues over the weekend.
Addressing the House of Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the technical problem with the system “that brings together” data from NHS test sites and tests processed by commercial firms “should never have happened” but he insisted the team had “acted swiftly to minimise its impact”.
“Putting lives at risk”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said problems with testing were “putting lives at risk” and that as many as 48,000 contacts may not have been traced due to the glitch.
The Department of Health dismissed reports of issues with phone lines hampering contact tracers’ efforts.
The Times newspaper said contact tracers had reported conversations disconnecting mid-call, but a spokesman for the department said no such incidents had been reported either on Monday or over the weekend.
He said: “Every single person who tested positive was told their results and to self-isolate and we have already contacted over half of the affected cases for contact tracing purposes.”
Weekly infection figures
A spokesman for Ring Central, the system used to call people, said there had been “no outages” on its platform.
He said: “We understand that there have been reports of issues around the UK Covid-19 test-and-trace work over the weekend of 3rd and 4th of October 2020. RingCentral can confirm that there were no outages on our platform that could have affected these users.”
The latest weekly infection figures show that Manchester’s rate has soared, with 2,927 new cases recorded in the seven days to October 2 – the equivalent of 529.4 cases per 100,000 people.
Knowsley and Liverpool have the second and third highest rates, at 498.5 and 487.1 respectively.
Other areas recording big jumps in their seven-day rates include Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham and Leeds.
Sheffield’s rate shot up from 100.9 to 286.6 and figures from the University of Sheffield’s university’s Covid-19 statistics web page showed nearly 500 students and staff had tested positive since the start of the autumn term last week.
Rule of six vote
Meanwhile MPs will vote on Tuesday on the regulations which enforce the rule of six in England in order to allow them to continue.
Boris Johnson has urged MPs to back the rule, with his official spokesman describing the ban on more than six people mixing as a “sensible and helpful” measure.
Elsewhere, US President Donald Trump, who revealed on Friday he had tested positive for the virus, left a military medical centre on Monday after three nights of treatment.
Shortly before his departure he had tweeted that he was “feeling really good” and “better than I did 20 years ago”.
He urged Americans “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life”.
The virus has claimed more than 200,000 lives in the US, making it the country with the highest death toll in the world.