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WHO tells Boris Johnson NOT to lift lockdown until contact tracing system works 'properly' 

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The UK should not lift lockdown rules until the test and trace system is ready to cope with huge numbers of people, a World Health Organization director has warned.

Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s chief for Europe, said the Government must only take sure-footed steps and not rush into decisions like scrapping the two-metre social distancing rule.

He said test and trace must be ‘robust’ and ready for ‘aggressive’ use if the number of new cases starts to soar again.

Dr Kluge said: ‘The key words here are to do it gradually. Do it carefully.’

His comments come after data last week showed that the NHS’s test and trace system was not able to get co-operation from a third of contacts in its first week. 

Britain is gradually returning to something of a normal way of life as restrictions on spending time outdoors, travelling across the country, and meeting up in small groups have all been lifted.

‘Non-essential’ shops, including clothes stores, will reopen for the first time today, and face coverings over the nose and mouth are now mandatory on public transport.

And Government ministers are coming under pressure to loosen the rule demanding that people stay 2m (6’6″) from others who they don’t live with. Scientific evidence suggests the majority of infectious droplets do not travel that far, but the Government is sticking to the measure as a precaution. 

WHO's director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge (pictured), has said England should exercise caution as it prepares to relax its lockdown measures

WHO’s director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge (pictured), has said England should exercise caution as it prepares to relax its lockdown measures  

Speaking to The Guardian, Dr Kluge said the timing of the end of lockdown is as important as the timing of its start.

He said: ‘We know that early lockdowns saved lives and bought some time for the health system to be ready. 

‘But I would rather than instead of looking to the past, jump to the future and say that the question of lifting the lockdown is as important as going to the lockdown.

‘The key words here are to do it gradually. Do it carefully.’

His comments came as the first statistics from England’s NHS test and trace system were published last week.

The data showed that the contact tracing system had only managed to get co-operation from two thirds (67 per cent) of people who had been close to someone confirmed to have Covid-19.  

Baroness Dido Harding, who leads the test and trace scheme, admitted: ‘Is it completely perfect? No, of course it isn’t.’

She added: ‘We won’t have got all of the contacts. Some were unreachable, some didn’t want to provide contacts, some said ”well, I’ve already told my mates I tested positive”.’  

The government has now launched a review to decide whether to drop the two-metre rule in place. Pictured: Boris Johnson at Downing Street's press conference

The government has now launched a review to decide whether to drop the two-metre rule in place. Pictured: Boris Johnson at Downing Street’s press conference

Critics said the fact that thousands of people either refused to follow the self-isolation rules, or could not be contacted at all, was cause for concern and showed the system was still not ready to play a major role in the UK’s coronavirus battle.

Dr Kluge told The Guardian: ‘Contact tracing is key especially as the UK starts to relax the social and physical distancing measures. There has to be a robust track and trace system in place of operation.

‘I would like to reply [to questions about the first results of the system] and say we need an effective tracking system in place, it is one of the measures that we recommend that are in place now.’ 

Dr Kluge added that with summer holidays on the horizon, it was important that Europe did not become complacent and crucial that governments issue the flu vaccine to those who were vulnerable. 

The Test and Trace scheme requires anyone who has been in close contact with an infected person to  self-isolate for 14 days

The Test and Trace scheme requires anyone who has been in close contact with an infected person to  self-isolate for 14 days

Yesterday Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the government had put in place a 'comprehensive review' of the current social distancing guidelines

Yesterday Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the government had put in place a ‘comprehensive review’ of the current social distancing guidelines

Under the Track and Trace scheme, Britons who have been in close contact with infected patients are being told to self-isolate for 14 days, even if they are asymptomatic.

The scheme will require anyone who develops symptoms associated with the coronavirus to get tested by ordering a test online or by calling 119.

If a patient tests positive they must remain in isolation and will be asked to share phone numbers and email addresses for close contacts.

Those who are listed will then receive a text message or email asking them to self-isolate for 14 days depending on the point at which they came in contact with the infected person.  

The system is designed to break the chain of transmission as quickly as possible in order to squash potential outbreaks and stop them from escalating.  

The WHO chief’s comments come as Mr Sunak confirmed the government had put in place a ‘comprehensive review’ of the current social distancing guidelines.

Speaking on Sky News yesterday he said: ‘The Prime Minister has put in place a comprehensive review of the two-metre rule. That review will involve the scientists, economists and others so that we can look at it in the round.

‘I know that of course it’s the difference between three-quarters and maybe a third of pubs opening, for example, so it’s important that we look at it.’

Britain’s test and trace failure: Official data shows a THIRD of Covid-infected Brits refused to give details of contacts or couldn’t be tracked down as head of flagship scheme Baroness Dido Harding admits it’s ‘not at the gold standard yet’ 

Britain’s test and trace fiasco deepened again last wek after damning figures showed Number 10’s flagship system had only tracked down the contacts of two thirds of Covid-19 patients in its first week.

Between May 28 and June 3, 8,117 people who tested positive for the coronavirus were referred to the NHS’s flagship scheme. 

But shocking statistics showed contact tracers could only get information from 67 per cent of them (5,407). 

Hundreds did not respond to phone calls or refused to give details of people they had been in contact with, the Department of Health admitted in another blow to the scheme that has been described as ‘shambolic’ by workers. 

Baroness Dido Harding — the head of the test and trace scheme — admitted it wasn’t yet ‘at the gold standard we want to be’. She added: ‘Is it completely perfect? No, of course it isn’t.’ 

She added: ‘We won’t have got all of the contacts. Some were unreachable, some didn’t want to provide contacts, some said “well, I’ve already told my mates I tested positive”.’

But officials said they were happy with test and trace’s performance so far, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock repeated his plea for people to use the system, saying it was the ‘civic duty’ of people to take part if they were contacted.

The data came as feedback from the Isle of Wight suggested that the NHS’s long-awaited coronavirus contact tracing app — which has yet to be rolled-out — could be an effective way to stop the spread of the disease.

Just two new cases of the illness have been discovered on the island since the app’s initial trial ended on May 26 — a noticeable drop on the 45 cases spotted during the trial, suggesting it stopped patients from infecting other people.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously promised the app, then considered a vital part of the government’s test and trace strategy, would be ready to be rolled out across the UK by the middle of May.

He claimed that the test and trace system is ‘already helping to stop the spread of the virus’. The Health Secretary added the system was ‘key to helping us to return to a more normal way of life.’

But repeated delays have meant the app — now considered the cherry on top of the cake — is still unavailable anywhere except the Isle of Wight.

Staff paid up to £27-an-hour to ring contacts of infected patients have described the test and trace scheme as ‘shambolic’, with call handlers warning the system was ‘obviously not ready’ when it was launched in England at the end of May.

In the first week of the service, 26,985 contacts were successfully reached and 85 per cent agreed to self-isolate for a fortnight. But it means that the army of 25,000 staff hired to only contacted one person each for the whole week, on average.

It is not clear how many of these contacts later tested positive for Covid-19 themselves because, controversially, people are not routinely tested after being contacted. 

The same test rules that apply to the public continue to apply to them and officials said they did not have data to show how many people had reappeared in the system as patients. 

Between May 28 and June 3, 8,117 people who tested positive for the coronavirus were referred to the NHS's flagship scheme. But shocking statistics show contact tracers could only get information from 67 per cent of them (5,407)

Between May 28 and June 3, 8,117 people who tested positive for the coronavirus were referred to the NHS’s flagship scheme. But shocking statistics show contact tracers could only get information from 67 per cent of them (5,407)

Of those people who were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts, just over three-quarters (79 per cent) were contacted within 24 hours of their case being transferred to the Test and Trace system. Some 14 per cent were contacted between 24 and 48 hours, 3 per cent between 48 and 72 hours, and 4 per cent were contacted after 72 hours

Of those people who were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts, just over three-quarters (79 per cent) were contacted within 24 hours of their case being transferred to the Test and Trace system. Some 14 per cent were contacted between 24 and 48 hours, 3 per cent between 48 and 72 hours, and 4 per cent were contacted after 72 hours

NHS Test and Trace contact tracers failed to reach 33 per cent of people who tested positive for coronavirus

The nationwide test and trace figures, released by the Department of Health on June 11, cover the period between May 28 and June 3. 

Overall 31,794 contacts were identified — the equivalent of almost six (5.8) for every infected patient. Only 26,985 of these contacts — 85 per cent — were successfully tracked down and advised to self-isolate, the statistics revealed. 

LONG-AWAITED NHS CONTACT-TRACING APP COULD CUT DOWN NEW CASES, ISLE OF WIGHT TRIAL SUGGESTS 

The NHS’s long-awaited coronavirus contact tracing app could be an effective way to cut down new cases and stop the spread of the disease, a trial on the Isle of Wight has suggested.

Just two new cases of the illness have been discovered on the island, which is home to around 140,000 people, since the app’s initial trial ended on May 26.

This was a noticeable drop on the 45 cases spotted during the trial, suggesting that it worked by tracking the spread of the disease early on and stopped those patients from infecting other people.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously promised the app, then considered a vital part of the government’s test and trace strategy, would be ready to be rolled out across the UK by the middle of May.

But repeated delays have meant the app — now considered the cherry on top of the cake — is still unavailable anywhere except the Isle of Wight.

Results from the island must be taken with a pinch of salt, however, because the numbers of patients are so small there is a large margin for error, and it may actually be an increase in testing capacity which has helped to contain the outbreak.

Officials are now said to be reconsidering the importance they had placed on the app and instead focusing on ‘traditional’ contact tracing using human staff. 

The programme said the number of people reached includes those who provided details about recent contacts or whose cases have been investigated as part of an outbreak. 

The number that were not reached includes those where contact details were unavailable or incorrect, or where there has been no response to text, email and call reminders. It also includes people who the service has been able to contact but who refused to hand over details of their contacts. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that people had a ‘civic duty’ to work with the NHS Test and Trace system, describing it as the ‘radar’ for tracking coronavirus.

At the Downing Street press conference on Thursday he said the system would continue to improve and he was ‘confident it will be world class’.

Mr Hancock said: ‘Testing for the virus and tracing how it spreads is critical for containing it locally, so that we can ease the national lockdown.

‘It’s by isolating the virus that we can control it and we can stop it spreading through our communities.

‘In this plan to lift lockdown, test and trace is our radar, if you like, it helps us identify where the virus is and trace how it is spreading through the community.’ 

Contact tracers try 10 times to reach someone in the first 24 hours after they have been referred to the service, attempting to get through to them by email, phone and text. 

Of those people who were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts, just over three-quarters (79 per cent) were contacted within 24 hours of their case being transferred to the Test and Trace system. 

Some 14 per cent were contacted between 24 and 48 hours, three per cent between 48 and 72 hours, and four per cent were contacted after 72 hours. 

Finding people fast is vital for the system to work because the plan is for it to find potentially-infected people before they start to show symptoms and pass the virus on to other people.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: ‘Tracing is vital to the safe easing of lockdown. 

‘Though this is early data, Matt Hancock needs to explain why a third of people don’t appear to have been contacted and what action they will take to rectify this.’

Professor Keith Neal, an epidemiologist at the University of Nottingham, said: ‘Being unable to contact 33 per cent of diagnosed cases is a concern particularly as a mobile number is involved in requesting the test. 

‘Some of these are part of other investigations including those related to care facilities – this data should be obtainable and identifiable. Nearly 80 per cent of those reached were contacted in a timely manner.

‘An absolutely crucial part of the test and trace system is the public committing to it – the system can not work without the public’s involvement.’

Baroness Harding — who was chief executive of TalkTalk when it was rocked by a huge cyber attack in 2015 — admitted the system was not yet where she wanted it to be. 

She said: ‘We are not at the gold standard yet that we want to be, of isolating all contacts within 48 hours of someone requesting a test. But you can absolutely see the path of how we are going to get there.’

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