People who have been in contact with someone who tested positive with coronavirus will be given daily Covid tests instead of having to isolate for a fortnight under new government plans.
The Test and Trace pilot scheme is being trialled in several schools, businesses and universities across the country. Close contacts of people with Covid-19 will be contacted by phone and sent a week’s worth of lateral flow testing devices.
Contacts will then need to test themselves at home every day for seven days. If a daily test yields a negative result, people will be able to leave home that day and go about their normal lives.
The new scheme, announced by Boris Johnson in late November, comes following concerns about the accurateness of rapid lateral flow tests.
An article in the BMJ medical journal published last week found that the rapid tests, which do not require processing in a laboratory, were reported to have missed half of all coronavirus cases.
It comes after a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) published today slammed ministers for “throwing money” at the beleaguered Test and Trace system.
The report highlighted the lack of compliance with self-isolation rules and the failure of Test and Trace to reach people fast enough as major concerns.
The NAO found that between 10 and 59 per cent of people comply with instructions to self-isolate.
It suggested that the high level of infection among the UK population meant that Covid contacts were being forced to go in and out of isolation on a regular basis.
The report also noted the government failed to address the additional strain that the reopening of schools and universities in September would put on Covid testing.
Pressure on laboratories handling tests meant the proportion of tests processed within 24 hours dropped from 90 per cent in late May to 14 per cent in mid-October. At the end of October, only 60 per cent of contacts were being reached.
A recent change in policy whereby each household only receives a single phone call has helped improve this. Figures released yesterday show tracers are now reaching up to 85.7 per cent of close contacts, up from 72.6 per cent a week prior.
The test processing rate has also improved, 64.9 per cent of people visiting a Covid test site receiving their result within 24 hours, though this is still far below Boris Johnson’s promise in June of 100 per cent.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak last month unveiled a further £7bn for the contact tracing system, taking its total funding to £22bn since the start of the pandemic.
The figure means NHS Test and Trace’s budget is now more than the combined budgets for England’s police and fire services, which this year will receive £15.2bn and £3bn respectively.
The government’s plan for improvements to Test and Trace over the next few months also aims to expand the role of local authorities in tracing hard-to-reach contacts, and to offer regular testing in large offices, theatres, pubs and restaurants.
The plan sets a target for contact tracers to reach 90 percent of cases and 85 percent of contacts by the end of January.