UK coronavirus live: Sturgeon accuses PM of using Covid crisis as ‘political weapon’ by ‘crowing’ about union

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Test and trace system still not meeting 80% target, figures show

The numbers of people testing positive for coronavirus reached by contact tracers and asked for details of those they have recently met are edging upwards, but are still short of the 80% the scientists recommend to keep the epidemic in England under control.

The NHS Confederation said it was concerned that the target was not being hit, risking a second wave in the winter as more virus circulates indoors. Dr Layla McCay, a director at the confederation, said:

I’m glad to see improvements in the proportion of people with coronavirus whose close contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate, but we cannot ignore the fact that the benchmark for effectiveness, as recommended by the government’s independent scientific advisers, is still not being met.

The Guardian on Wednesday revealed that the numbers reached in more socio-economically deprived communities were lagging a long way below the national figure. In partially locked-down Leicester, 65% of people testing positive were reached and asked to provide their contacts. In Luton, with the sixth highest infection rate in England, the rate was only 47%.

“We are hearing that people in the hardest hit areas are not being reached,” said McCay.

This is too important not to get right. Without a test and trace system that is consistently robust across the whole country and effective at reaching people where the disease is particularly prevalent in a timely manner, we risk a second peak that could seriously endanger public health and put the NHS in the path of a wave of infections that could overwhelm it.

The latest statistics out today (pdf), for the week from 9th to 15th July, show that 79.7% of people testing positive were reached by the contact tracers, slightly up on the previous week. The numbers of the close contacts of “non complex cases”, which means individuals not in outbreak settings, hospitals or care homes, who were reached were lower, however, at just over 60%. In complex cases, the tracing teams do much better – 98.5%.

The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said that 80% of an infected person’s close contacts must be contacted and told to self-isolate within 48 to 72 hours for the national programme to be effective.

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The global poultry production giant Moy Park has confirmed that a “very small number of employees” have tested positive for coronavirus at a plant in Northern Ireland.

The company said the workers at its Ballymena factory were self-isolating on full pay.

Moy Park’s operation in the Country Antrim town employs 1,400 workers including agency staff. Northern Ireland’s health minister, Robin Swann, said that the region’s Public Health Agency was cooperating with Moy Park over the outbreak.

Swann stressed that an outbreak of Covid-19 was defined as two or more people being infected.

“We have always said we will expect outbreaks and clusters as we start to ease restrictions, but what we really need is for people to interact with test, track and tracing so we can manage them,” Swann added.

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