December 4, 2022

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Coronavirus: Test and Trace in England is not going to reach everyone | Science & Tech News

The upward trend in positive cases continues in the latest statistics for Test and Trace, which show that 19,278 new people in England tested positive between 10 September and 16 September.

In the previous week, that number was 18,371, so this is a rise of 3% – which, inevitably, begs all sorts of questions.

Does a 3% rise mean the outbreak is flattening off? Does the fact that it comes after last week’s big jump of 167% show that the outbreak is still heading in the wrong direction?

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In truth, it’s hard to be sure, because the recent struggles of the testing system mean that this already noisy data is now positively cacophonous.

Looking at the overall trend, alongside other data, it’s clear that cases are rising: up 180% since the end of August. How fast and how far remains to be seen.

Of course, we are testing far more, which increases the number of cases, but you can account for that by seeing how many people test positive per test conducted – a measure known as the positivity rate. This produces a worrying result.

In the previous week the rate was 0.97%. This week it’s 1.78%. That’s a jump of 80% in a week.

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Deaths and hospitalisations haven’t spiked in the UK yet, but they are increasing, and in recent days they have risen sharply in France. It’s still possible they might stabilise in the UK, but altogether the signs aren’t encouraging.

One big caveat: any rise could be prevented by new measures like the rule of six, but their impact won’t be felt in these numbers for some time. We’re looking back here, not forward.

Yet when it comes to measures to protect against the virus, these statistics also tell a gloomy tale. Speed is essential in this crisis, but only 28.2% of in-person test results were received within 24 hours compared to 33.3% in the previous week.

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What’s more, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Test and Trace in England is not going to be able to reach every contact.

This week’s figures show it successfully reached 77.7% of people who tested positive – or, if you prefer, missed 22.3%.

Dig a bit further into the data and you see that, of the community contacts they handed over, only 64.3% were reached.

As the outbreak spreads into the general population, missing three in 10 contacts makes it hard to be confident about England’s ability to stop cases turning into clusters.

It’s worth stressing that in absolute terms, these numbers are nowhere near as bad as anything the UK experienced during the crisis – and there’s still so much we don’t know about how this second spike will develop.

But on the face of it these numbers provide little room for encouragement.

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