Coronavirus: NHS Test and Trace figures due as PM defends system

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to give a date on when the system’s accompanying app would be made available.

Coronavirus – Wed Jun 24, 2020
Coronavirus – Wed Jun 24, 2020

The Government is due to publish the latest data from its coronavirus test and trace service as the Prime Minister continues to defend it from criticism.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) is expected to release figures for England on Thursday for the NHS Test and Trace Service between June 11 and 17, its third week of operation.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted the system is a “cluster-busting operation” that would quickly tackle any localised Covid-19 outbreaks after he was challenged by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over a discrepancy between the estimated number of coronavirus cases in the UK and those covered by test and trace.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to give a date on when the controversial test and trace app would be made available, but said the Government is “going to make it work”.

Speaking to ITV’s Robert Peston on Wednesday night about how the app will work, Mr Hancock said people will have to “self-declare” to the NHS if their phone informs them they have been close to someone who has tested positive.

He said: “I’m not going to put a date on it, I want it to work, I’m really glad now that we’ve got Apple, are working really well, and I’m very grateful to them for coming to the table, and we’re going to make it work.”

HEALTH Coronavirus infographic
(PA Graphics)

Asked if he supported a “what have we learned” inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic, Mr Hancock said: “Well we’re constantly doing that sort of thinking … I haven’t seen that proposal … All I care about is constantly finding out what works, and adapting our response to it, because we are still learning about this virus.”

Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reported the Government will announce next week that pupils will not be expected to adhere to social distancing while in school, and the current “bubbles” of 15 pupils can be increased to include entire classes.

Schools will instead be asked to focus on introducing strict hygiene regimes and limiting the time children mix with others outside their class or year group.

Responding to the article, the Department for Education said it would publish “further information and guidance next week to help schools prepare for a full return in September”.

There are also reports that the first set of so-called “air-bridges” are to be announced this weekend, detailing holiday destinations where Britons can visit from July 4.

France, Italy and Spain are all expected to be included in the first tranche of bridges as they are deemed to be “safe nations”, the Sun, Times and Daily Telegraph reported.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has previously indicated air bridges would only be agreed with countries which have a coronavirus test and trace system at the same standard as that used in Britain.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Wednesday saw Mr Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer spar over the system, with Sir Keir asking at Prime Minister’s Questions about the gap between the number of estimated coronavirus cases and those entering the test and trace system.

The Prime Minister said: “What NHS Test and Trace is doing is contacting the vast majority of those who test positive and their own contacts and getting them to self-isolate, and it is a formidable achievement.”

Meanwhile, the Government is braced for more bleak financial news as the Office for National Statistics is due to publish the latest indicators for the UK economy later on Thursday.

In other developments:

– The Scottish Government intends to allow outdoor hospitality such as beer gardens to reopen on Monday July 6, non-essential shops within indoor shopping centres to reopen from July 13, and households will be able to meet indoors with people from up to two other households from July 15.

– Labour is calling for NHS staff to undergo weekly testing for coronavirus in order to ensure waiting list backlogs can be safely cleared, a demand echoed by Jeremy Hunt in a column in The Daily Telegraph.

– Leaders and representatives from 45 Commonwealth countries took part in a virtual meeting in which they urged “swift and coordinated action” on Covid-19.

– Health leaders called for an urgent review to ensure Britain is properly prepared for the “real risk” of a second wave of coronavirus.

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