New figures from Greater Manchester show almost half of all coronavirus contacts across the region are not being reached by the government’s tracing system.
Just 53 per cent of people who are known to have been exposed to the deadly virus have been spoken to by NHS Test and Trace.
In one borough, Oldham, that number falls as low as 47 per cent and to just 48 per cent in another, Rochdale. Even in the most successful area for tracing – Trafford – only 61 per cent of people are being reached.
The new figures appear to support what health experts and dozens of local authorities have been starting to warn: the new system – a key component in getting to grips with Covid-19 – is not fit for purpose.
Only this week, Blackburn with Darwen Council announced it had developed its own team to plug the gaping gaps left by the national service, which has 20,000 call-handlers working for a variety of private firms such as Serco and Sitel. Sandwell Council, in the West Midlands, had already done something similar after its public health director said the national service was too flawed.
Speaking on Wednesday, Great Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said the failings were now so bad, they were “hampering” efforts to keep the region’s infection spike under control.
The system, he told a virtual press conference, was “critical” to tackling the virus – but it was “not doing that”.
He said: “We’ve got to decide – and decide very quickly – where are we going with this system before we get into the depths of a difficult winter without a vaccine. August is the month to fix this.”
He threw his weight behind growing calls for a more localised approach. “What we’ve discussed today as a solution going forward is Greater Manchester taking on responsibility to conduct more contact tracing,” he said. “And it’s certainly something we want to happen.”
In a later tweet, he added: “We can fix this if the government provides timely data on missed contacts (within 48 hours max), more tracers, help for low-paid to self-isolate.”
So far the government has been reluctant to share contact and virus data outside of specific cases.
The new figures for Greater Manchester came after independent research published on Monday found Test and Trace – which Boris Johnson previously promised would be “world beating” – was reaching only 50 per cent of contacts.
A government spokesperson previously told The Independent: “We continue to work closely with all local authorities and are providing targeted, additional support where needed, including in Blackburn with Darwen where we have assigned a ring-fenced group of NHS contact tracers to follow up positive cases.”