Why has Test and Trace fallen apart in England while other countries have managed to make the system work?
The principle is simple – test people with symptoms, trace their contacts and ask them to self-isolate – but the execution has varied dramatically.
England has lagged behind countries such as South Korea, which rapidly grasped the importance of testing people and tracking their contacts.
And where Germany invested in local contact tracers, the English system relied on poorly performing call centres.
How many tests the UK is carrying out each day, compared to other nations that are battling Covid-19: The data shows the daily new Covid-19 tests per 1,000 people, showing the UK is behind UAE and Singapore, but ahead of the US, France and Germany. The UK is tenth place when comparing to all countries
Separate figures show how many tests each nation is carrying out, on average, to find just one case of coronavirus. For example, Singapore finds one positive out of every 3,000 swabs
In other countries innovative ideas have been dreamed up, such as in Singapore, where older people without smartphones who cannot download the contact tracing app can instead wear Bluetooth tokens on lanyards around their neck.
But in England even the basics have gone wrong, with the system becoming overwhelmed by demand, and resulting in farcical cases where people in south London were offered tests in Aberdeen.
So what lessons could NHS Test and Trace, which Boris Johnson promised would be ‘world-beating’, learn from other countries? Germany, which has efficiently dealt with Covid since the start, added hundreds of extra people to local health protection teams for its test and trace operation.
But in England this vital part of the system was largely entrusted to call centres and people working online, several of whom were said to have spent their days being paid to watch Netflix with little or nothing to do.
There was a shift to a more local approach in August, but the national system is still only managing to reach 57.6 per cent of close contacts, the latest figures show.
The UK has ramped up testing over the course of the pandemic and is now reaching 280,000 per day
Our World in Data presents charts that show how many tests each country is carrying out per 1,000 people, with darker shades of green signalling more. Russia tests three people per 1,000, the UK four, and Iceland almost seven. UAE tests almost 12 per 1,000
A heat map shows how some countries have managed to carry out more Covid-19 tests than others over the course of the pandemic, with dark green colours showing the nations that have processed the most swabs. Luxembourg is top, with 1,466 test per 1,000 people. The country does mass testing of the population. The UK is 12th with 360, behind the US, Iceland, Singapore, Denmark, Russia and Israel
Separate data shows how the number of tests carried out to find each new case differs across the world, with countries in red carrying out 10 tests to spot a Covid-positive patient, meaning they are not carrying out enough tests. Dark blue shows the opposite – only a small number of people are testing positive in a huge amount. The UK does 16 tests per confirmed case
Our World in Data released a map showing how different countries across the world have different testing policies, with those in blue, including Australia, Russia, Northern America, Canada and China having policies to test anyone – even if they don’t have symptoms. The UK only tests those with symptoms (light blue), which means it may miss asymptomatic carriers
The website, which has tracked the pandemic since it began, also presents a map that shows how contact tracing policies vary across the world. Countries in dark blue have comprehensive regimes, while those in teal (the UK) have limited tracing
In South Korea, they rapidly grasped the importance of testing people and tracking their contacts. Pictured: A police officer being screened for coronavirus in Seoul
ONE MILLION BRITS ‘COULD GET TESTED EACH DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS’
Britain could be carrying out a million coronavirus tests per day by Christmas with results in just 15 minutes, a scientist working on the testing scheme has said.
The source, who was not named, revealed the government is buying new machines capable of processing 150,000 tests per day with the aim of trebling the current capacity of 300,000.
Separately, trials of pregnancy-style tests which could provide results in just 15 minutes will begin in northern hotspots from next week.
‘It’s going pretty well,’ the scientist told The Times. ‘They have really scaled up their capabilities. By Christmas we’ll be at a million a day, I think. That seems perfectly possible.’
Mr Johnson told a No 10 press conference on Friday that the new tests were ‘faster, simpler and cheaper’ and that work was being done to ensure they could be manufactured and distributed in the UK.
The old-fashioned ‘shoe-leather’ approach, of knocking on people’s doors and speaking to them in person within local areas, reaches 97.7 per cent of the same contacts.
South Korea, which has more than 600 screening centres, set up contact tracing from the beginning of its epidemic, while England was slow to start, not launching it until May, around two months after the lockdown.
While South Korea had a turnaround time of six to 24 hours for its test results in March, this country’s Test and Trace is still struggling.
Mr Johnson promised to have all test results delivered within 24 hours by the end of June, except for where there were ‘insuperable’ problems.
But the latest figures show less than a third of people tested for Covid-19 in person, at a regional or local site, or a mobile testing unit, received their result within 24 hours.
Some Asian countries isolate everyone with a confirmed infection in a hospital or similar facility, while New Zealand has ‘quarantine hotels’.
This could not be done for everyone in the UK, but the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has discussed temporary accommodation for Britons who live with vulnerable people to avoid spreading the virus.
Another idea which could be worth looking at is to test the contacts of infected people, as New Zealand does, with a positive test result more likely to encourage someone to stay at home.
However, with tests in such short supply in England that Health Secretary Matt Hancock had to set out rationing criteria last month, this currently seems unlikely.
EUROPE 7-DAY AVERAGE DAILY NEW CASES PER MILLION PEOPLE: The Czech Republic, in purple, has the highest infection rate in Europe – ahead of hard-hit Western European countries such as the Netherlands (in red), France (in blue) and Spain (in orange)
EUROPE CASES AND DEATHS: Infections have been on a different path to fatalities for some time, with cases surging thanks to mass testing while hospital cases and deaths grow more slowly in much of Europe
Source: Daily Mail