Contact tracers are scrambling to succeed in as much as 50,000 individuals who needs to be self-isolating after ministers have been accused of “placing lives in danger” with a spreadsheet blunder that led to coronavirus circumstances going unreported.

MPs from throughout the political spectrum rounded on the well being secretary, Matt Hancock, after it emerged that official figures missed 15,841 constructive outcomes because of a “catastrophic” information error.


A million-row limit on Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet software program might have led to the error, which meant an estimated 50,000 individuals who have been in shut contact with somebody with coronavirus had been circulating in the neighborhood for days when they need to have been instructed to quarantine.

About half of the 16,000 missed circumstances are thought to have been in north-west England, the place the added circumstances noticed Manchester’s an infection charge double to greater than 500 circumstances per 100,000 individuals because it turned the worst-hit a part of the nation.

Health officers have been racing to trace down contacts however solely 51% of the 15,841 constructive circumstances had been requested handy over contact particulars by Monday morning, Hancock stated.

The federal government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advises that every one shut contacts ought to isolate inside 48 hours if contact tracing is to be efficient.

Hancock instructed MPs: “This incident ought to by no means have occurred. The crew have acted swiftly to minimise its affect and now it’s crucial that we work collectively to place this proper, and to guarantee that it by no means occurs once more.”

Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, had assessed the up to date information, Hancock stated, and concluded that no assessments of the unfold of Covid had considerably modified. No native lockdowns would should be reassessed, he added.

Blaming a “failure in automated switch for recordsdata”, Hancock stated that no care properties, NHS websites or colleges had been affected. However responding for Labour, the shadow well being secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, stated up to 48,000 contacts had been missed over a interval of days.

“Hundreds of individuals blissfully unaware they’ve been uncovered to Covid, probably spreading this lethal virus at a time when hospital admissions are growing and we’re within the second wave,” Ashworth stated.

“This isn’t only a shambles. It’s a lot worse than this. And it provides me no consolation to say it, but it surely’s placing lives in danger, and he ought to apologise when he responds.”

Covid testing centre in Manchester



A Covid-testing centre in Manchester. About half of the 16,000 missed circumstances are thought to have been in north-west England. {Photograph}: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Hancock additionally confronted some scepticism from his personal benches over his argument that the info concern had been fastened and wouldn’t be repeated. Jeremy Hunt, the previous well being secretary who now chairs the Commons well being committee, stated the incident had proven an “underlying downside” of laboratories being overwhelmed by demand.

Hunt instructed MPs the testing system needs to be absolutely revamped to shift testing for NHS and care workers to hospital and college laboratories, and warned Hancock in opposition to complacency.

Bernard Jenkin, the Tory MP who chairs the influential liaison committee, additionally referred to as for a rethink, suggesting that the army may help with the method.

“That is one other incident which additional undermines public confidence within the supply of the federal government’s Covid response. It’s one other instance of the place logistics and planning have allow us to down,” he stated.

Consultants stated the error may enhance Britain’s already rising charge of infections and put further strain on a testing system in England that was buckling beneath the pressure of demand.

Boris Johnson

“Not solely are we getting the pandemic beneath management, with deaths down and hospital admissions approach, approach down, however we are going to proceed to deal with it, with native lockdowns and with our superlative test-and-trace system.”

Boris Johnson

“NHS Take a look at and Hint is doing a heroic job, and immediately most individuals get an in-person check end result inside 24 hours, and the median journey is beneath 10 miles if somebody has to take a journey to get one … [To Keir Starmer] We make the powerful calls – all he does is sit on the sidelines and carp.”

Boris Johnson

[On the ‘moonshot’ proposal for mass, near-instant testing:] “We’re hopeful this method will probably be widespread by the spring and, if every little thing comes collectively, it might be potential even for difficult sectors like theatres to have life a lot nearer to regular earlier than Christmas.”

Boris Johnson

“We don’t have sufficient testing capability now as a result of, in a super world, I want to check completely everyone that wishes a check instantly … Sure, there’s an extended solution to go, and we are going to work evening and day to make sure that we get there.”

Matt Hancock

“In fact there’s a problem in testing … Now we have despatched checks to all colleges to guarantee that they’ve checks out there. However after all I additionally recognise the challenges in getting maintain of checks … Exams can be found, although it’s a problem to pay money for them.”

“All these people with constructive outcomes that weren’t entered into the system have contacts who remained an an infection danger to others over this era and so we will anticipate that they are going to have already contributed further infections which we will see over the approaching week or so,” stated Rowland Kao, a professor of veterinary epidemiology and information science at Edinburgh College.

Native leaders made contemporary requires extra management over the testing system. Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, accused ministers of a “pandemic of incompetence” that was damaging the area’s fragile financial system. Nick Forbes, the chief of Newcastle metropolis council, described the incident as “one more catastrophic failure from an incompetent authorities that’s transferring recklessly from one avoidable catastrophe to a different”.


The error arose in the course of the information processing Public Well being England (PHE) undertakes to make sure that individuals who have examined constructive for coronavirus are solely counted as soon as, even when they’ve had two or extra checks, as some individuals have.

Referring to the concept the error may need been attributable to the use of Microsoft Excel files to switch information, Ashworth requested Hancock why a posh system costing £12bn had used an off-the-peg programme. The well being secretary stated a brand new contract had been signed in August, and work was beneath solution to exchange the system.

However Ashworth stated the failure epitomised issues with check and hint: “The prime minister instructed this home on 20 Might we’d have a world-beating system in place by June. It’s now October. The system is neither competent nor bettering. Issues are getting worse. The federal government is failing on the fundamentals. When will he lastly repair this mess?”

The failure meant 22,961 Covid circumstances have been reported in Sunday’s figures, after 12,872 on Saturday. The error additionally meant the data was not handed on to information dashboards used for contact tracing, PHE stated. An extra 12,594 individuals have been reported on Monday to have examined constructive.



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