Covid Test and Trace failure in towns including Blackpool 'helped Indian variant spread'

Blackpool was among one of the areas of the country affected by a "technical glitch" in the NHS Test and Trace system, it was reported today.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 1:47 pm
Updated Friday, 21st May 2021, 9:21 am

A report seen by the BBC said "failures in England's Test and Trace system are partly responsible for a surge in the Indian variant in one of the worst affected parts of the country."

Between April 21 and May 11, the system only provided details of a limited number of positive cases of Covid to eight local authorities in England.

Blackpool was among the areas affected by what is thought to have been a "technical glitch," along with York, Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset, Bristol, Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Blackpool was among one of the areas of the country affected by a "technical glitch" in the NHS Test and Trace system, a report revealed. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Blackpool was among one of the areas of the country affected by a "technical glitch" in the NHS Test and Trace system, a report revealed. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

NHS Test and Trace identifies and notifies people when they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

The number of missing cases was highest in Blackburn with Darwen, where a surge in infections has been linked to the Indian variant of the virus.

The report showed that "the rapid spread of Indian variant cases... may be partially or largely attributable to risks in the international travel control system", and "these were exacerbated by the sporadic failure of the national Test and Trace system."

Some 734 positive tests in England had not been reported between April 21 and May 11, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

The Indian variant of Covid was first identified in the UK in April, and some 2,967 cases of the variant have been confirmed in the UK so far.

Meanwhile, Downing Street has since denied that a NHS Test and Trace delay in alerting local authorities in hotspot areas to positive cases helped contribute to the spread of the Indian variant.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “In this specific instance, all positive cases were contacted and told to self-isolate for 10 days.

“As you know, there was a short delay when asking some of those positive cases to provide details of individuals they had contacted since contracting Covid.

“This issue was across a small number of local authority areas and was quickly resolved.”

Asked whether the Government accepted the failure contributed to the spread of the variant, the spokesman said: “The spread of the variant will be down to a number of factors – this was an issue that occurred across a small number of local authority areas, so I don’t think it is possible to draw that conclusion from this.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "A small number of contacts of positive cases experienced a temporary delay in getting a message from NHS Test and Trace.

"NHS Test and Trace has contacted over 10 million people since the start of the pandemic, dramatically reducing the potential spread of the virus.

"A small number of contacts of positive cases experienced a temporary delay in getting a message from us recently but it was resolved quickly. All individuals were contacted and instructed to self-isolate for 10 days."

Dr Arif Rajpura, Blackpool Council's director of public health said: "Blackpool only had a very small number of cases that were not visible on the national Test and Trace System to our local contact tracing team during this period.

“Cases during this time were already low in Blackpool and due to our public health team having a well-established outbreak management team in place, we were made aware of cases through different sources and systems and were able to contact and trace our small number of local residents who had contracted Covid.

"So this technical glitch has not had an impact on the spread of the Indian variant here."

A spokesman from the Department of Health & Social Care added: "NHS Test and Trace has contacted over 10 million people since the start of the pandemic, and this has had a significant impact, breaking chains of transmission and reducing the spread of the virus.

“Over the past month, we have contacted over 150,000 people to tell them to self-isolate.

“Due to a software issue, there was a delay in tracing contacts of a number of cases. This only affected a handful of local authorities and the issue was resolved as quickly as possible.”

Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here​.