In Brief

Coronavirus: ‘missing data’ makes it impossible to know if test-and-trace works

Lack of ‘real-time’ figures means £12bn system may not be reducing infection rates

Missing data is making it impossible to assess whether the government’s test-and-trace programme is reducing the spread of coronavirus, researchers have discovered.

Scientists at University College London (UCL) found that it is “unknown how many people are isolating with Covid-19 symptoms at present” and “no routine data is collected on whether people actually isolate for the full 14 days”, The Times reports.

Without this “real-time information” it is impossible to assess how effective NHS test-and-trace is in reducing the spread of the virus, the paper adds.

The UCL researchers developed Covid Red, a public health data dashboard, to explore the effectiveness of the crucial system.

Professor Christina Pagel, one of the team behind Covid Red, said: “One of the major things that’s missing and has always been missing is the evaluation data on isolation.” 

Pagel called for data to be “collected and reported weekly”, because “if people are not isolating then it’s just window dressing”.

Professor Deenan Pillay, who also worked on the project, added that it was easy for people to become “disenchanted” with continued restrictions when they did not have the data to show why they were needed.

“Track, trace, isolate is a key part of monitoring the effectiveness of social distancing measures, and to ensure infections remain low once we come out of current and future restrictions,” he said

Earlier this week, it was revealed that the UK’s much-maligned test-and-trace system is failing to reduce Covid transmission at anything like the rate achieved in many other countries. Downing Street’s scientific advisers found that the scheme is only “having a marginal impact” on infections, despite its £12bn price tag.

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