UK sends contact tracers door-to-door to track spread of coronavirus

The NHS Test and Trace service will reduce its staff capacity from 18,000 to 12,000 after the change takes effect.
The NHS Test and Trace service will reduce its staff capacity from 18,000 to 12,000 after the change takes effect.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - The UK government is overhauling England's much-criticised program of testing and tracing the movements of coronavirus patients in an attempt to get a grip on the outbreak ahead of a potential surge in infections.

The centralised army of officials tasked with finding people who've come into contact with Covid-19 patients will be replaced by locally-based teams who can knock on doors in their neighbourhoods, the government announced.

The change will take effect on Aug 24, and the NHS Test and Trace service will reduce its staff capacity from 18,000 to 12,000.

Local officials will be deployed to tell anyone deemed at risk of having come into contact with virus patients to isolate at home.

The shift to a localised approach reflects concern that the tracing program so far is not reaching enough potential Covid-19 cases to be effective at preventing another mass outbreak in the UK.

Recent figures showed teams reached only 72 per cent of people identified as having come into close contact with confirmed Covid-19 cases.

Government officials fear that the virus is at risk of spreading rapidly again, as ministers strive to avoid another economically damaging national lockdown.

"We have always been clear that NHS Test and Trace must be local by default," said Dido Harding, executive chair of NHS Test and Trace.

"As we learn more about the spread of the disease, we are able to move to our planned next step and become even more effective in tackling the virus."

 
 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he does not want to impose another full national lockdown and instead is focusing on targeting local restrictions at areas where the virus flares up.

But unless there is a clear picture from the tracing service of where the virus has spread, the risks is that local lockdowns won't contain the disease and wider action may be needed again.