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Coronavirus: Test and trace system launched by Boris Johnson yesterday won’t be ‘fully operational’ until end of next month, chief admits

Four-week gap between easing of lockdown measures and system designed to replace them

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 28 May 2020 11:54 BST
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How will the coronavirus test-and-trace system work?

The coronavirus tracing system Boris Johnson said would go live today won’t be fully operational until the end of next month, the government’s contact tracing tsar has admitted.

MPs said Dido Harding had told them in a private conference call that the system wouldn’t be “fully operational” until the final days of June, four weeks after lockdown restrictions will have been eased further.

It comes amid widespread reports of problems with the system today, with tracers left unable to log on to their computer systems and some only told late last night that it would be switched on today.

The government was accused by MPs of following a “high risk strategy” by failing to bring the system fully online before lockdown rules are eased further on 1 June.

A promised contact-tracing app has also failed to materialise, with no date set for its launch despite similar systems being live in other countries for a long time.

“Dido Harding just told me on an MPs’ conference call that Test, Trace and Isolate won’t be fully operational at local level till the end of June,” said Labour MP Ben Bradshaw following the call.

He added: “Not sure where that leaves Johnson’s promise of a fully operational ‘world beating’ system by Monday.”

Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper corroborated the report from the conference call, stating: “Dido Harding just told me that the NHSX app described by prime minister a week ago as ‘world-beating’ is in fact just a ‘cherry on top’ of the tracing system: which itself won’t be fully operational until end June... 4 weeks after lockdown restrictions ease. This is a high risk strategy.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday said the new system was designed to replace national lockdown measures. Some school children are returning to education on 1 June – a policy that has alarmed some local authorities, teachers’ unions, and independent scientific experts.

Under the new test and trace system, anyone with coronavirus symptoms will immediately self-isolate and book a test, either at a testing centre or posted to their home. Their household will also go into isolation with them.

If the test comes back negative, they come out of isolation, but if it is positive, an NHS contact tracing team will get in touch asking them to share details of people they have been in close contact with and where they have visited.

Those people will then be asked to self-isolate for 14 days, even if they are symptom free, to avoid spreading the virus further.

The system involves an army of 25,000 contact tracers and an additional 25,000 people working to process tests, who will locate people who have been within two metres of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.

The Independent has contacted NHSX and the Department for Health for comment on this story.

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