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UK’s COVID-19 Track-And-Trace Confusion Persists

UK’s COVID-19 Track-And-Trace Confusion Persists

Source : Medtech Insight

While the pilot program for the app that is seen as a major element in the UK’s COVID-19 surveillance effort proceeds to its planned conclusion, confusion reigns over the bigger track-and-trace picture for the UK. Launch timings and indeed the central content and direction of the national plan for surveillance of infected individuals and contact tracing remain unclear. National Health Service leaders it see as a critical element to ensure a second coronavirus spike does not occur.

A three-week trial of the UK government’s COVID-19 app was launched to the 140,000 population of the Isle of Wight in early May. ("Experimental App Could Make One Small UK lsland COVID19 Free In 46 Weeks" "Medtech Insight" ) The Bluetooth app lets smartphone owners signed up to the voluntary program know if they have had significant contact with a person that has later self-reported COVID-19 symptom via the app. The app stores data centrally, not on the phone, which has been a source of some criticism. But the 65,000 claimed downloads and 15 people per day being referred to a dedicated assessment unit locally are seen as vindications of the pilot.

What comes next is still unclear. Nationwide distribution of the app was signalled for 25 May, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has avoided mention of both that deadline and the Isle of Wight pilot in his recent statements. He has, however, claimed the UK would have a test, track and trace effort up and running by 1 June that could trace 10,000 new cases a day. But mindful of the UK’s regular failure to hit the promised 100,000 COVID-19 tests daily, and the confused messages over the “protective ring” around the highest-risk individuals in care homes, providers and other stakeholders are beginning to lose patience. 

The NHS Confederation, representing NHS leadership, this week put that frustration in a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, expressing its concern that time is running out to finalize a test, track and trace strategy to avoid a potential second surge. Association chief executive Niall Dickson wrote: “We urge you to produce a clear strategy with a clear implementation plan ahead of any further easing of the lockdown.” If the UK does not rapidly instigate the right system, involving the right people, the ramifications could be severe, he added.

By Ashley Yeo