Coronavirus: Boris Johnson admits he doesn't know how many contacts have been missed after more than 15,000 positive cases untraced

PM blames spreadsheet blunder for fiasco, saying ‘some of the data got truncated and it was lost’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 05 October 2020 11:54 BST
PM admits he doesn't know how many contacts untraced because of missing tests

Boris Johnson has admitted he does not know how many contacts of Coronavirus cases have been missed, as he blamed a spreadsheet blunder for nearly 16,000 missing positive test results.

The prime minister said “some of the data got truncated and it was lost”, when asked how the damaging mistakes had been made.

And, asked about the scale of the contacts that had been missed, he said: “I can't give you those figures.

“What I can say is all those people are obviously being contacted and the key thing is that everybody, whether in this group or generally, should self-isolate.”

Speaking in London, the prime minister downplayed the impact of the blunder – which omitted 15,841 positive results from the official Covid dashboard between 25 September and 2 October.

The system breakdown is believed to have been caused by an Excel spreadsheet containing lab results reaching its limit and being unable to register an increase in positive tests.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, will face urgent questions in the Commons later, when he will be under pressure to explain exactly who or what was at fault.

On the prevalence of Covid-19, he claimed: “The incidence that we are seeing in the cases corresponds to pretty much where we thought we were.

“And, to be frank, I think that the slightly lower numbers that we'd seen, you know, didn't really reflect where we thought the disease was likely to go, so I think these numbers are realistic.”

Mr Johnson also reacted to the news that hundreds of UK cinemas are to close again, insisting the government was “supporting local cinemas” – and urged people to do the same.

“What I would say to people is that local cinemas do now have ways of making their shows go on in a Covid-secure way and I'd encourage people to go out to the cinema, enjoy themselves and support those businesses,” he said.

Reacting to his own vaccine experts saying under-50s would not receive a jab in the short term, the prime minister said: "Obviously, if and when we get a vaccine then the crucial thing would be to ensure that we have sufficient supplies in this country, that we're able to make it in this country, distribute it fast in this country, and clearly the priority for a vaccine will be... those who are the most vulnerable groups. That's how you would start.”

The weekly rate of new Covid-19 cases has soared in dozens of areas of England, following the results blunder, a new analysis showed.

Manchester now has the highest rate in England, with 2,740 cases recorded in the seven days to October 1 – the equivalent of 495.6 cases per 100,000 people, up from 223.2 in the previous week, PA News Agency found.

Liverpool has the second highest rate, up from 287.1 to 456.4, with 2,273 new cases and Knowsley in Merseyside is in third place, up from 300.3 to 452.1, with 682 new cases.

The analysis, based on Public Health England data published on Sunday night, also shows sharp rises in Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Leeds and Sheffield.

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