Test and Trace

Government Considering Exempting Fully-Vaccinated Brits From Quarantine Rules after Contact with Covid Carriers

The gap between vaccinated and unvaccinated Brits is set to grow even further under new plans to exempt people who have received both doses of a vaccine from having to self-isolate for 10 days after coming into contact with Covid carriers. Those who are exempt will have to abide instead by a strict testing regime and will still have to isolate if a test result comes out positive.

The Health Secretary is said to be “very keen” on this approach. All that is needed, according to reports, is for Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, to give his seal of approval. The MailOnline has more.

Britons who have received both jabs would be exempt from self-isolation for a 24-hour period after each negative test result. 

Tests would be required every morning for one week if a person is told by Test and Trace that they have been near someone with the infection.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is said to be “very keen” on the new approach which would help to lift coronavirus restrictions.

But the proposal can only go ahead after Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, is content with the outcome of a study of 40,000 people…

Initial results from the study are predicted to come in next month and the research is set to finish by the end of this summer. 

A Whitehall source told the Times: “The vaccines are extremely effective and we want to keep people safe whilst minimising interruption to their lives. 

“So of course it is an attractive option if shown to be safe.”

It follows 62,000 people having to self-isolate last week after coming into contact with Covid carriers. 

Another source added: “It’s obviously very appealing if it’s safe so we need to show that before we bring it in.

“Matt is very keen on it and there is a strong appetite in some corners.”

Worth reading in full.

£35 Million Test and Trace App Only Contacts Half of People Who Need to Self-Isolate

A recent survey suggested that more Brits are now willing to follow self-isolation rules after coming into contact with someone with Covid (90%) than in early March (84%). But how important are compliance rates if people don’t know they are required to isolate? The Test and Trace app – which has cost the taxpayer at least £35 million – is contacting fewer than half of its users who need to self-isolate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The Telegraph has the story.

The NHS Test and Trace app is contacting people who need to self-isolate in fewer than half of coronavirus cases, new data show.

A survey by the ONS found that in early April, only 48% of those who had downloaded the app and were required to self-isolate received a notification.

Of these, just 15% received the app notification at least a day before any other source, such as a phone call from a contact tracer.

The figures are the latest indication of the extremely limited impact the technology has played in reducing the spread of cases, despite costing at least £35 million.

They follow the delay of a software update earlier this month after a new check-in feature was found to violate Apple and Google’s privacy rules.

The ONS figures also found that nine out of 10 people required to self-isolate after being in contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus said they fully adhered to the rules.

However, of the respondents who did not follow self-isolation requirements, 78% reported they left the house for non-permitted reasons during their 10-day isolation period, the ONS said.

Of those who left their homes, 27% said they had gone to the shops, while 13% went out for outdoor recreation or exercise.

Worth reading in full.

NHS Test and Trace App Update Blocked For Breaking Privacy Rules

A software update to the NHS Test and Trace app – which was scheduled to coincide with the partial reopening of pubs and restaurants – has been blocked by Apple and Google because it breaks rules about the collection of location data. Sky News has the story.

As coronavirus lockdown measures were eased across the UK from midnight, the NHS Covid app was meant to include a new feature that would have allowed users – once they had tested positive – to upload the list of all venues they had checked in to using a QR code.

But this form of location tracking has been explicitly prohibited on privacy grounds by Apple and Google, who collaborated together to design the exposure notification system used on all iOS and Android devices.

Public health authorities around the world that signed up to the exposure notification system have agreed to never use it to collect location data, but this was what Apple and Google considered would have happened under the update to the app.

ITPro reports that the app “must comply with the regulations due to it being based on the decentralised API model developed by Apple and Google, which stores the information collected through the app on users’ devices and only shares a limited amount of data with epidemiologists monitoring the pandemic”. Before settling with the API model, the Government considered setting up a centralised tracing app, but the idea received criticism from digital rights campaigners over the suggestion that this would hold on to personal health data for up to two decades.

A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care said that the update has merely been “delayed” by this block.

The deployment of the [enhanced check-in] functionality of the NHS Covid app to enable users to upload their venue history has been delayed.

This does not impact the functionality of the app and we remain in discussions with our partners to provide beneficial updates to the app which protect the public.

As venues begin to open up we encourage everyone who can to use the enhanced venue check-in process, which includes advising users to book a test if they attend venues where multiple people have tested positive.

All customers at pubs, restaurants and cafes must provide contact details (either written or via the NHS Test and Trace app) on entry.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

Offering Everyone in England Two Tests a Week Is a Waste of Resources

Everyone in England is to be offered two rapid COVID-19 tests per week as part of the Government’s plans to “ease” the lockdown. According to the BBC, these tests “are aimed at those without any Covid symptoms and can be taken at home”. The kits will be available through community and workplace testing schemes, as well as via local pharmacies and an online home-ordering service.

However, this seems like a huge waste of resources. Recall that the Government has already spent an eye-watering £22 billion on Test and Trace – a scheme that, at best, had only a marginal impact on transmission. The BBC quotes Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University, as saying, “Mass testing is a scandalous waste of money.”

According to the ONS, around 50% of people in England now have COVID-19 antibodies, including more than 80% of those aged 65 and over:

This means that the vast majority of vulnerable people have at least some immunity to the virus. What would make more sense is focusing protection on those vulnerable people who have not yet had the virus or been vaccinated.

As the Great Barrington Declaration notes, this could be done via frequent testing of staff at care homes and hospitals, as well as by offering tests to those who want to visit elderly relatives living at home. (In a recent article for Lockdown Sceptics, I outlined what a focused protection strategy would have looked like.) At this stage of the pandemic, it’s difficult to see how mass testing of young, healthy people could possibly pass a cost-benefit test.

Stop Press: Matt Hancock has tweeted: “Reclaiming our lost freedoms & getting back to normal hinges on us all getting tested regularly.” Yet back in January, he said it was vaccinating the vulnerable that would let us “Cry freedom”. Here’s the relevant excerpt from his interview with The Spectator:

When Covid hospital cases fall and pressure on the NHS is lifted, he says, “That is the point at which we can look to lift the restrictions.” So what about herd immunity, vaccinating so many people that the virus dies out? “The goal is not to ensure that we vaccinate the whole population before that point, it is to vaccinate those who are vulnerable. Then that’s the moment at which we can carefully start to lift the restrictions.” But at that point the majority would remain unprotected. Would he – as Health Secretary – still say it’s time to abolish the restrictions? “Cry freedom,” he replies.

The goalposts keep shifting. First it was vaccinate the vulnerable; then vaccinate everyone; now weekly mass testing… Will we ever be allowed to get back to normal?

When NHS Test and Trace Goes Wrong

A Lockdown Sceptics reader has written to tell us about an unfortunate experience she had with NHS Test and Trace when her deceased husband tested positive for Covid.

On March 17th, my partner died suddenly and unexpectedly. We are still waiting to find out the cause of death, but early indications are some sort of heart problem which no one knew about. Naturally this has been a shock to all of us.

A few days after the event, I received a phone call from a young lady representing NHS Test and Trace who told me that I had been identified as a contact of someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 and that I needed to self-isolate for 10 days. She named my partner as the contact. When I asked where the information had come from, she didn’t know how his name had got onto the database and when I explained that he had died, she didn’t know that either. I know that he had never had a COVID-19 test as he worked from home, so I can only assume that the test was carried out post mortem.

The young lady was very apologetic and embarrassed and, to her credit, didn’t press me further about matters. I really don’t want to blame her for doing her job, but you’d think a bit of context might be helpful for people doing this job.

Inevitably, COVID-19 has been mentioned as a contributing factor on the preliminary report. We won’t know any more now until after Easter, but we owe it to him to find out what took him from us. Whatever it was, he didn’t die of COVID-19 and I find it highly unlikely that he even had it, given that I have to be tested when I go to work (only occasional work and no positive tests to date) and he hadn’t been anywhere. Despite our scepticism, we have kept to the guidance, mainly because all of our hobbies which took us out of the house to meet others have been on pause for the past year. He was a lockdown sceptic from the get-go, and I know he would be incandescent that his death would be recorded as a COVID-19 statistic. I do, however, regard his death as a casualty of lockdown. Perhaps the post mortem will tell us that he had a condition which would have taken him from us sooner than expected, but this wicked and pointless lockdown policy stole the last year of his life and deprived him of the things which gave him so much pleasure in life.

I am beyond angry about how our media and political classes have treated us and so disappointed by the way the people of this country have colluded with them through complacency. Thank you for all the work you do in exposing this dreadful state of affairs.

Every Customer Must “Sign in” When Pubs Reopen

In yet another blow to the hospitality industry, the Government has announced that all customers at pubs, restaurants and cafes must provide contact details (either written or via the NHS Test and Trace app) on entry. Previously, only one member of each group had to provide details. Doing so was voluntary (staff were only asked to “encourage” customers to provide their details). But the new guidelines state that those who will not provide their details must be “refuse[d] entry”. BBC News has the story.

New rules to help pubs, cafes and restaurants reopen outdoors safely in England on April 12th have sparked anger from industry groups.

All customers will have to sign in on entry, not just one member of the group like before. It is also unclear whether payment at the bar will be permitted. …

Under the new guidance, every customer aged 16 and over will have to check in to NHS Test and Trace before entering a venue, or give their contact details to staff.

Pubs and restaurants must take “reasonable steps” to stop people who won’t comply from coming in, or they could face fines.

Carl Ford, an accountant based in Tamworth, told the BBC he was frustrated and confused by the rules.

“I feel like it’s almost like going back to school where I have to sign in and out,” he said. 

“I don’t understand why I have to do this in a restaurant or pub, but I don’t need to do this in a supermarket where you have a free for all. People don’t have to sign in and they can pick up fruit with their hands.” …

In a joint statement, UK Hospitality, the British Beer & Pub Association and the British Institute of Innkeeping said the rules would add “more confusion and inconvenience for customers and staff”.

When pubs and restaurants opened last summer, customers were “encouraged” to provide their contact details, but to do so was not mandatory (see official guidance below).

These guidelines have, however, since been updated: venues must now take “reasonable steps to refuse entry to those who refuse to check in or provide contact details”. Compliance is no longer a personal choice. It is mandatory.

NHS Test and Trace Has Never Met Its Key Targets Despite £22 Billion Cost

The Prime Minister hoped that it would be “world-beating“, but it turns out that England’s test and trace system has met none of its key targets despite its £22 billion price tag. Not exactly money well spent! Parliament’s spending watchdog has concluded that there is no evidence the Government’s programme contributed to a reduction in Covid infection levels. The Guardian has the story.

In a report which examined the rush to invest in the scheme, the cross-party public accounts committee has challenged ministers to justify the “staggering investment of taxpayers’ money” and criticised the use of private consultants who are paid up to £6,624 a day.

The programme, which has a budget that exceeds that of the Department for Transport, is run by Dido Harding, who was appointed by Matt Hancock, last year…

The timing of the report’s conclusions is an embarrassment for the Government as it continues to refuse to give a pay increase of more than 1% to health workers.

Ministers had justified the vast expenditure on preventing a second national lockdown, but – questioning the programme’s effectiveness – MPs who compiled the report noted that England is now living under its third.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the committee, said the enormous amounts spent on the scheme leaves the impression that the public purse has been used like a cashpoint.

“Despite the unimaginable resources thrown at this project, test and trace cannot point to a measurable difference to the progress of the pandemic, and the promise on which this huge expense was justified – avoiding another lockdown – has been broken, twice,” she said. “British taxpayers cannot be treated by the Government like an ATM machine. We need to see a clear plan and costs better controlled.”

This is not the first report to highlight the failures of test and trace. In December, the National Audit Office found that only as high as 38% of those tested for Covid received their results within 24 hours, with a low of 14% in October, falling far short of the Government’s target. Perhaps more money will solve the problem…

Worth reading in full.