Michael Gove today revealed that the government has recruited more than 17,000 coronavirus contact tracers who put ministers on track to reach their 18,000 goal.
Staff will play a key role in efforts to prevent a second wave of the deadly disease, as their job is to find out where people have tested positive and who they may have come in contact with.
Mr. Gove’s announcement came just days after his fellow cabinet minister Brandon Lewis said the government had only succeeded in recruiting people for 1,500 of the rolls.
However, there are concerns about the long-term future of the ‘test, track and trace’ program after it has been claimed that personnel are only recruited on the basis of initial three-month contracts.
Health experts believe that such an arrangement should exist for 18 months.
Michael Gove today revealed that more than 17,000 of the 18,000 contact tracer jobs have now been filled
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on April 23 that he intended to recruit an army of 18,000 people to work as contact tracers.
Of these, around 15,000 are tasked with physically identifying and warning people who may be exposed to the virus so that they can protect themselves and others around them by isolating themselves.
The remaining 3,000 will be experts from Public Health England who will focus on stopping outbreaks in critical environments such as nursing homes and hospitals.
Gove was asked this morning on Sky News how many of the roles have now been fulfilled and he replied: ‘Just over 17,000’.
When asked whether the government will have 18,000 next week, the cabinet minister said: “Yes. Here I have to commend the work of health secretary Matt Hancock.
“In the past, people have seen Matt and the government set ambitious goals and said,” Oh, the test goal, it won’t be met “- Matt has reached that goal.
“It is now, because I say that more than 17,000 people have been recruited to find contacts, so we are on track to meet that goal again.
“It is more proof that we have an energetic and determined health secretary in Matt who is committed to fighting the virus and mobilizing a united, national effort.”
Mr Gove said the program will be operational “by the end of this month”.
The contact tracking initiative will be used to minimize the spread of the disease in the future by identifying people who are sick and removing them from the community until they recover.
Experts have suggested the scheme will be needed for up to 18 months, but The Sunday Telegraph reported today that people will only be hired for an initial three-month period.
Advertisements for the roles indicate that they are “12 weeks minimum” or “10-12 weeks initially.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said, “Contact tracking is an essential part of the testing, tracing, and isolation infrastructure that must be in place to facilitate lockout restrictions.
“This should be a long-term role and driven by local expertise in public health and primary care.
“These ads suggest that ministers don’t understand what it takes.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said last week that only 1,500 roles had been fulfilled
The Northern Ireland secretary, Mr. Lewis, said on May 15 that while “about 15,000” applications had been made for the contact tracer roles, only 1,500 employees had been hired.
Mr. Lewis told Sky News, “I don’t think we have 18,000 [contact tracers] just. I think there are about 15,000 registrations … we’re looking for, as you say, 18,000. ‘
Again pushed how many of the 15,000 applicants actually got a job, he added: “As of this morning, I’m not sure exactly how many of the 15,000 were hired. Earlier in the week, it was about 1,500. It would have gone up ever since. ‘
The contact tracers will be deployed at the same time as the NHSX mobile app, which is currently being tested on Isle of Wight residents, prior to a national rollout.
It uses bluetooth to detect when two phones have been near each other for a long time.
When someone develops symptoms of Covid-19, they notify the app, which then uses the Bluetooth log to inform other users that they may also have the virus and need to be checked.