Half of Britons with telltale Covid-19 symptoms don’t get test results for at least four days after they first fell ill, it was found today.
Scientists have warned that the massive delays will render number 10’s contact tracking schedule unusable and the epidemic could get out of hand.
SAGE says close contacts should be detected and told to isolate themselves within 24 hours of interacting with a coronavirus-infected patient.
Any longer than that, there is a risk that people will unconsciously infect countless others, making it impossible for tracers to detect every contact.
But it currently takes 96 hours for the track & trace process to even start in many symptomatic patients, The Telegraph reports.
This is because it takes so long to send tests, process the results, and pass them on to the government’s contact tracking schedule. It doesn’t take into account postal delays or defective samples, which can make it last even longer.
The government has repeatedly failed to meet its own test targets during the crisis, after struggling to hit smears of up to 100,000 a day in April and then missing it for eight days in May.
The Prime Minister promised on June 3 that every coronavirus test would be reversed within a day by the end of the month.
Half of Covid-19 tests at home take four or more days to make a diagnosis, as revealed today because Boris Johnson is failing to deliver on its promise to process all Pap smears within 24 hours
But number 10 has so far not provided any data on the progress towards the goal as the deadline expires.
The first set of what will be weekly statistics about the 24-hour target will be published today, but they will only cover the period between June 18-24.
This means that it will not become clear until the end of next week, when the second set of data will be published, if the target is reached on 30 June.
Asked yesterday if the government doesn’t know whether the target has been met within the deadline, the prime minister’s official spokesperson told MailOnline, “I don’t, no.”
Dr. David Bonsall, of the University of Oxford, who advises the government on how to find contacts, told The Telegraph: “We made it clear from the start that speed is absolutely crucial, we have to find people before they infect others.
“Our models show that we need to reverse tests within 24 hours from the point of symptoms. If it takes four days to reverse the tests, tracing contacts has little effect on the virus. ‘
Modeling by the team of Dr. Bonsall in Oxford found that it took longer than two days for a person to show Covid-19 symptoms to detect their contacts, halving the number of cases caught.
If a contact was not tracked within six days, it would be useless to track them down because they’ve probably already passed it on to others, they found.
Had Leicester’s Covid risen to more TESTING? Public health England says the increase in tests may be behind part of the increase that was not caused by a specific outbreak
There is no clear cause for a recent rise in the number of coronavirus cases in Leicester, and the growing number of people carrying the virus may be due in part to an ‘increase in test availability’ in the city, a bomb report revealed today.
The Public Health England study also found ‘no explanatory outbreaks in nursing homes, hospital environments or industrial processes’ after the increase in infections led to the UK’s first local closure.
The report found that about half of all cases occurred among Asian or British Asian people who lived in Leicester and concentrated in the east of the city, where BAME communities make up two-thirds of the local population.
Official figures released last night showed that coronavirus positive tests in England have fallen from 10.7 cases per 100,000 inhabitants to 6.7 in just one week – a drop of 37.4 percent from the latest available figures.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock tightened restrictions in Leicester and the nearby suburbs on Monday, ordering nonessential stores to close and urging people not to travel in or out of the area.
The PHE report found an increase in the number of people under the age of 19 infected in the city of East Midlands, from 5 percent of all cases in mid-May to 15 percent in June, and a similar increase in infections among working-age people.
The report said the increase in positive tests “is probably partly related to the availability of tests to the general public.”
The majority of the tests have been conducted in hospitals and care homes, with more than 9.6 million swabs distributed to patients, residents and staff – known as ‘Pillar 1’ tests.
Home symptomatic testing accounts for more than 2.8 million tests, half of the government’s ‘Pillar 2’ testing schedule for people in the community.
Drive-through centers, which make up the rest of the ‘Pillar 2’ tests, have caused 2.1 million swabs to date.
Yesterday, 146,624 pillar 2 cotton swabs were done in the community, of which more than 100,000 were home swabs.
Throughout the pandemic, Mr. Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock have had questions about the time it takes people to get their test results.
The prime minister was grilled in the House of Commons on June 3 by former Health Minister Jeremy Hunt.
Mr Hunt asked the Prime Minister to indicate how many tests were processed within 24 hours and to undertake to publish this number regularly.
Mr. Johnson replied, “The answer is that we perform 90 percent of the tests within 48 hours.
“The tests being conducted at the 199 test centers, as well as the mobile test centers, are all being done within 24 hours, and I can now oblige him to run all tests within 24 hours by the end of June, except for post-test difficulties or such insurmountable issues . ‘
But the government has not disclosed whether they count their 24-hour target from the time the test is taken or when a person develops symptoms and requests a test.
Professor John Newton – who became leader of the UK test program in April – said the latter strategy was crucial to curb the epidemic.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Social Care said, “We have quickly expanded our testing capacity to a world-renowned industry and anyone with symptoms can now get a test.
“There has been a constant improvement in lead time testing and these will be published in the following NHS Test and Trace figures.”
Downing Street has been pressured repeatedly in recent days to provide an update on whether the government was on track to meet its late June target. However, no data on the problem has been released.
The prime minister’s official spokesman was unable to say yesterday whether the promise had been kept.
The spokesman said: “We said we wanted to achieve that by the end of this month and we are talking to the Ministry of Health and Social Care about how we can make that data available.
“We did our best to reverse those test results as soon as possible, but I don’t have those numbers for you.”
The fact that the government has not indicated the progress made towards meeting the target has raised concerns that the deadline has not been met.
Mr Hunt previously wrote to the Prime Minister to request an update and ensures that efforts were on track.
Last week, the Tory chair of the Health Select committee said, “Test and Trace need rapid turnaround of test results to be effective, so I am concerned that I have still not received a reply to my earlier letter to the Prime Minister asking for data was requested about 24 hours test lead time.
“Today I re-wrote him asking to confirm that we are on track to reach his 24-hour target by the end of June.”