NHS coronavirus contact tracers struggled to reach tens of thousands of potentially infectious people yesterday after phone lines crashed after an IT outage.
When staff tried to catch up on a backlog of calls to the 16,000 infectious people that were missed from the database – due to an error caused by an outdated version of Microsoft Excel on Friday – the communications system began to overload.
Ring Central, the calling system used by NHS Test and Trace, reportedly cut off during the call and repeatedly banned employees from their profiles due to the volume of calls from tracers.
A contact tracer told The Times that the department had been plagued by "terrible IT problems," including locking the system out for "20 to 30 minutes" at a time.
She told the publication, "Ring Central keeps breaking down because of too many calls being made at the same time."
The phone line fiasco follows an eventful week of IT disruptions, as an outdated version of Microsoft Excel limited the amount of data that can be stored in a spreadsheet and excluded 15,841 people from the test and trace dashboard.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock can be seen in the House of Commons Chamber making a coronavirus disease statement in London, UK on October 5th
This meant that while the infected people were informed of their positive diagnosis and told to stay home, their data was not critically shared with contact tracers, leaving an estimated 40,000 people they had contact with unaware that they should have isolated.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the issue was half resolved by 9 a.m. on Monday, and 51 percent of the contacts of those 15,841 people had been notified.
Mr Hancock announced that he was told on Friday night that the cases had disappeared and that urgent contact tracing had started on Saturday morning.
He blamed the "legacy" software system at Public Health England amid a bitter argument over who was responsible for the mess. He said he had already ordered it to be replaced.
The extraordinary breakdown was caused by an Excel spreadsheet that contained laboratory results that were reaching their maximum size and could not be updated. Between September 25 and October 2, 15,841 cases were not uploaded to the government dashboard.
The technical problem has now been resolved by splitting the Excel files into stacks.
Daily totals rose over the weekend following the "glitch," leading officials to add thousands of cases that were missed last week. However, this only shows the dates on which the cases were reported, not when the positive tests took place
Following the bug, the UK saw a startling spike in coronavirus cases on Monday when the Department of Health announced 12,594 more positive tests – more than three times the 4,368 recorded two weeks ago.
Last Monday's data, which is usually a good reference point, is now unreliable due to a catastrophic counting error at Public Health England which means September 21st will be the last Monday with an accurate number.
Officials confirmed that today's large number was a clean count that didn't include any cases left of the weekend's data error at Public Health England, which carried over 16,000 test results from last week to the Sunday night update.
Instead, the more than 12,000 new infections occurred after the fog cleared from the counting disaster – presumably caused by an Excel problem in outdated software at PHE – and marked one of the largest one-day increases for the UK.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock stood outside the House of Commons Monday afternoon to explain the extraordinary episode, which he said "should never have happened". He told MPs that an investigation was being carried out into how thousands of cases had dropped out of the system.
But he did not apologize and tried to calm the situation down by insisting that the goofy had not skewed judgments on local lockdowns or the government's overall assessment of the outbreak.
Labor beat the government for "basic failure" while Tory MPs intervened to warn that public confidence is being "undermined" and demanded that the military be brought in to help.
In other developments Monday:
- The UK reported another 12,594 cases, with the government insisting that the data issues be addressed. 19 more deaths were recorded;
- Manchester now has the highest 7-day case rate in England, including new infection data.
- Official figures, updated with the missed cases, show the UK's daily rate has not been below 6,000 since September 21, based on the date samples were taken rather than the time the result was published.
- The highest number of infected samples collected in a single day was 11,404 on September 30;
- Ministers are putting the finishing touches to a new traffic light system that could pave the way for more stringent restrictions like closing all pubs in a given area.
- School exams next year would be delayed by three weeks as the crisis progressed.
- Rishi Sunak said he was "frustrated" with the 10pm pubs curfew and had no regrets that "Eat Out to Help Out" – although Mr Johnson admitted it may have fueled Covid cases;
- The trials of a passenger test regime are expected to begin within a few weeks to win the Mail's Get Britain Flying campaign.
- Health Minister Lord Bethell claimed the UK would look back on its response to Covid-19 "like it did at the Olympics" and be "extremely proud".
According to the date of sampling rather than the date of government disclosure, the UK had 11,404 cases as of September 30, almost as many as were reported in the next two days combined
Another 33 deaths, the numbers of which were unaffected by the technical issue, were also confirmed today
Matt Hancock told the Commons that the extraordinary episode "should never have happened" and an investigation has been made into how thousands of cases have fallen out of the system
The number of positive tests announced daily by the Ministry of Health is unreliable and difficult to compare due to the data problem affecting every daily count since September 25th.
The comparison of yesterday's cases with those of last Monday would be incorrect, as last week's announcement now assumes that positive cases are missing.
On the last Monday for comparison, September 21, two weeks ago, 4,368 cases were confirmed. Yesterday's number is up 188 percent – almost three times as high.
A ripple effect resulting from the census fiasco means that a number of other statistical measures of the size of the outbreak in the UK – when using data from the Department of Health – are now inaccurate.
The daily average has increased from just 6,273 cases on Friday, October 2nd – the day the bug was discovered – to 10,937 yesterday. However, this drops to a more realistic 8,235 per day if the mammoth number on Sunday is cut out from 22,600. It will take another week for the seven-day average to smooth out.
One measure that remains accurate, however, is the number of Health Department tests to the date they were performed.
The UK had 11,404 cases as of September 30, almost as many as were reported in the next two days combined.
PHE MEMO DISCOVERS LOST CASES
The cases removed from the Department of Health's census due to Public Health England's counting error were revealed in a memo to Sky News.
They show that between September 25 and October 2, an average of 8,328 cases were announced per day, with a high of 11,754 on October 2 and a low of 4,044 on September 28. The latter number is unchanged from the Ministry of Health's own count.
The adjusted data suggests that the current average number of daily cases – calculated from the past seven days – is approximately 10,600. This is an increase of 6,100 on average that would have been seen in the week leading up to last Monday.
25th of September
The daily number for the alternative measure has not been below 6,000 since September 21 – although the government reported lower numbers on several days during that period.
Sample data usually falls short of the daily count as it takes days, and sometimes more than a week, to process people's test results. Therefore, cases announced yesterday may have sample dates that go back a week or more. The number of a day has no direct reference to a specific date.
The cases missed in the Department of Health's census were revealed in a memo from Public Health England that leaked to Sky News.
They show that between September 25 and October 2, an average of 8,328 cases were announced per day, with a high of 11,754 on October 2 and a low of 4,044 on September 28. The latter number is unchanged from the Ministry of Health's own count.
The adjusted data suggests that the current average number of daily cases – calculated from the past seven days – is approximately 10,600. This is an increase from an average of 6,100 that would have been seen in the week ending last Monday.
Averages are a more accurate measure than daily cases because the one-day numbers tend to fluctuate – they're usually lower on Mondays, and lab residues when the test fluctuations mean it can take different lengths of time to run.
In a bloody Commons meeting, Mr Hancock said the PHE episode "should never have happened" – but he stopped apologizing.
Instead, he insisted that it showed that the government could act "quickly".
"This incident should never have happened, but the team acted quickly to minimize its impact. Now it is important that we work together to correct this and make sure it never happens again," he said.
Mr Hancock said the government's assessment of the Covid-19 pandemic had "not changed significantly" despite the radical change in the numbers.
& # 39; This morning the Joint Biosecurity Center (JBC) presented me with their updated analysis of the epidemic based on the new numbers.
& # 39; The Chief Medical Officer (Chris Whitty) has analyzed that our assessment of the disease and its effects has not changed materially based on these data.
& # 39; The JBC has confirmed that this does not affect the basis on which decisions about local action were made last week. However, this is a serious problem that is currently under extensive investigation. & # 39;
Mr Hancock stated that half of the positive cases had been contacted for traceability purposes.
He suggested the 16,000 had been contacted for the second time – but the first time apparently related to the notification that they had tested positive.
He told the Commons, “The contact tracing of these cases began first on Saturday. We rolled out 6,500 hours of additional contact tracing over the weekend, and I can report back to the house from 9:00 a.m. today (Monday). 51 percent of the cases have now been contacted a second time to pursue the contract.
"I want to assure the House that outbreak control in nursing homes, schools and hospitals is not directly affected, as outbreak management in these environments does not depend primarily on this PHE system."
But Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth accused the government of breaking the basics when testing.
He said, “The Prime Minister told this house on May 20th that we would have the world's best system by June, it is now October. The system is neither competent nor improved, problems keep getting worse.
"The government is failing at the basics, when will he finally fix this mess?"
Sir Bernard Jenkin was one of the senior Tories who appealed to the cabinet minister.
Manchester has the highest Covid rate in England after new cases emerged
Manchester is the UK's coronavirus capital after adding "missed" new cases to the latest list.
The weekly rate of new Covid-19 infections has risen in dozen of areas of England after adding nearly 16,000 that were previously unreported nationwide.
Manchester has the highest rate in England, with 2,740 cases recorded in the seven days leading up to October 1 – 495.6 cases per 100,000 population, up from 223.2 the previous week.
Liverpool has the second highest rate of 2,273 new cases from 287.1 to 456.4.
With 682 new cases, Knowsley ranks third from 300.3 to 452.1.
Other areas with strong growth are Newcastle upon Tyne (from 256.6 to 399.6 with 1,210 new cases); Nottingham (from 52.0 to 283.9 with 945 new cases); Leeds (from 138.8 to 274.5 with 2,177 new cases); and Sheffield (from 91.8 to 233.1 with 1,363 new cases).
"This is another incident that is further undermining public confidence in the government's delivery of the cornnavirus response," he said.
He insisted that the government replicate the "success" of projects like the Nightingale Hospitals, in which the military was more closely involved.
Mr Hancock said the military already had limited involvement in the logistics for testing.
The Shambolic situation sparked an immediate backlash against PHE – which is already being phased out and is to be replaced by the government – claiming "everything it touches becomes sh **".
But the body struck back by pointing a finger at the Test and Trace surgery performed by Baroness Dido Harding. & # 39; We report the data when it is sent. We didn't get it, ”an official told Sky News.
The problems are believed to have occurred when labs sent their results using CSV files that have no size restrictions. However, PHE then imported the results into Excel, where some documents only contain 65,000 rows.
PHE officials said the pending cases were forwarded to NHS Test and Trace "immediately" after the problem was resolved, and thanked the contact tracers for their "extra efforts" over the weekend to clean up the backlog.
All cases were referred to Tracer at 1am on Saturday, implying potential delays of more than a week in contacting thousands of people exposed to the virus and asking them to self-isolate.
PHE said that every single person initially tested had received their test result as usual, with any positive tests being asked to self-isolate.
The technical issue meant the daily totals reported on the government's coronavirus dashboard for the past week were lower than the real figure.
For example, 4,786 cases that were supposed to be reported on October 2nd were not included in the daily total on the dashboard on that day when the number was reported as 6,968.
The government dashboard said there were an additional 22,961 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to 502,978.
A note on the dashboard states: "The cases by publication date for October 3rd and 4th include 15,841 additional cases with sample dates between September 25th and October 2nd – so they are artificially high for England and the UK . "
Typically, the government has focused on the number of cases "reported" on a daily basis.
However, that number has now been skewed by the historical events added to the daily numbers.
Leaked documents reveal potential pub closings and the ban on ALL social contact outside your household under the proposed red, amber and green traffic light system
According to reports, ministers are planning tough new bans on "red alerts". A leaked document shows that all social contact outside of homes could be banned under the most extreme part of a proposed traffic light style system.
The new three-tier system includes a Level Three Alert, which includes severe new restrictions – almost parallel to the full lockdown measures imposed in March.
This includes closing all hospitality and recreational businesses, as well as banning contact with anyone outside a person's household in any setting.
Non-professional sports are also being discontinued – although places of worship are allowed to remain open – which was not the case during the original coronavirus lockdown.
It comes from the fact that the UK recorded 23,000 new coronavirus infections on Sunday following a "technical glitch", meaning thousands of cases were not initially included in the official data.
The harsh new red measures, outlined in a leaked document by The Guardian, will be imposed either nationally or in a specific area only if the virus cannot be controlled by level 2 measures or if there is a significant increase in the level of the virus in an area Transfer recorded is & # 39 ;.
"Level Two Alert" measures, which are yellow on the traffic light system, include restricting social gatherings to people within a household and the support bubble while restricting travel to essential purposes.
Alert level 2 is triggered when infections have increased and local measures cannot control this.
In the meantime, Alert Level One, green, will encompass pre-existing measures such as the “Rule of Six”, hospitality curfew at 10pm and wearing face masks in public places like supermarkets and public transport.
According to the Guardian, a source in A Whitehall said the values were intended as "minimum standards".
The source added that specific local circumstances in each area would also be considered.
A more precise picture of the time axis is obtained from the breakdown by sample date.
This shows the confirmed cases up to the date of sampling.
The numbers have not been updated past October 1, apparently because tests and data are still being processed.
However, they show that there were 10,068 cases at this point. On September 30th it was 11,404, which seems to have been the high point so far.
Michael Brodie, interim chief executive at PHE, said the "technical problem" was identified on Friday, October 2, overnight as part of the data loading process, which translates positive laboratory results from Covid-19 into reporting dashboards.
The problem was caused by an Excel spreadsheet reaching its maximum file size, preventing new names from being added in an automated process.
The files have now been split into several smaller files to prevent the problem from occurring again.
Test and Trace and Public Health England Joint Medical Advisor Susan Hopkins said: “All outstanding cases were immediately transferred to the contact tracing system at 1am on October 3rd and a thorough public health risk assessment was carried out to ensure pending cases have been prioritized for effective contact tracing. & # 39;
According to the PHE, NHS Test and Trace have made sure there are more than enough contact tracers in place and are working with local health protection teams to ensure they also have sufficient resources to contact all cases urgently.
The number of call attempts is increased from 10 to 15 within 96 hours.
However, in a round of interviews this morning, Labor and Pensions Minister Therese Coffey admitted that people were likely infected as a result of the failures.
When asked if some might have been infected as a result of the bug, she told Sky News, "It may well be, and I was made aware that probably most of it (contact tracing) happened in the last element of the week. in the last days.
“So it is important that we act quickly and PHE (Public Health England) act quickly to see if people need to self-isolate or not.
"Because I realize that not everyone who goes through the regime will be identified by the Test and Trace regime to do this further self-isolation."
During a visit to an energy company in London on Monday, Boris Johnson, who refused to make a full statement in an interview yesterday, said "some of the data was cut off and lost".
"But what they have now done is not only contact all of the people who have been found to have the disease – that was done in the first place – but they are now working on all the contacts," he said.
“The most important thing I would say, and that goes for everyone, is that if you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace if you are told that you have been in contact with someone who has the virus, you need to isolate yourself .
"There's a £ 500 grant for that and, of course, a £ 10,000 fine if you don't."
Mr Johnson has downplayed concerns that ministers have made key lockdown decisions without accurate information.
He said the updated numbers meant the spread of the virus was where experts expected it and insisted it would soon become clear whether additional restrictions on some parts of the country would have the intended impact.
"The frequency that we see in the cases is pretty much where we thought we were," he said.
"And to be honest, I think the slightly lower numbers we saw didn't really reflect where we thought the disease was likely to go, so I think those numbers are realistic.
“The bottom line is that over the next few days and weeks we'll see more clearly whether some of the restrictions we put in place – the additional enforcement of the rule of six, the additional enforcement of self-isolation, the rules for masks, and so on – all those things who got in, we'll see if that starts to drive the virus away. & # 39;
If people follow the guide, "I have no doubt we will be able to get over it like we did earlier this year".
Jonathan Ashworth, Secretary of Health for Shadow, said: “This is shambolic and people across the country will understandably be alarmed.
"Matt Hancock was due to come to the House of Commons on Monday to explain what happened in the world, how it had affected our ability to contain this virus, and what he plans to do to fix testing and tracking."
On Saturday, Professor Graham Medley, a participant in the Emergency Scientific Advisory Group, tweeted: “Delays in reporting are devastating to data streams and making them very difficult to analyze in real time.
“If the delays change or vary depending on the group, they can become very skewed. I wonder what these will do with the R estimates next week. & # 39;
PM and Sunak have joined forces on a united front after the Chancellor stole the "frustrating" 10 p.m. pubs curfew
Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson formed a united front on Monday after the Chancellor declared the 10pm pubs curfew "frustrating" and insisted he had no regrets about the "Eat Out to Help Out" program.
The two politicians were pictured together visiting an energy company after Mr Sunak vigorously defended his restaurant subsidies – despite the prime minister admitting they may have contributed to the surge in coronavirus cases.
In an interview prior to his keynote address at the Tory conference, Sunak said the program created two million jobs.
He cemented his status as the cabinet's leading “hawk” on the need to get the economy going again, telling The Sun, “I don't think it's wrong for people to seek normalcy, and I do don't think it's wrong the government wants this for the people. & # 39;
The intervention came after Mr Johnson was heavily questioned about his management of the crisis, criticizing chaotic local lockdowns and shambolic testing. He admitted yesterday that he dropped his "lively" style during the pandemic because it was "inappropriate".
In contrast, Mr. Sunak was praised for his tone of voice, speaking about the effects of the disease and the speed with which complicated rescue operations, including vacations, were carried out.
Mr Johnson tried yesterday to bridge the apparent gap between their messages by saying he wanted the public to be "fearless but use common sense".
Professor Paul Hunter, epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, said last night, “To manage an epidemic, you clearly need good quality data – without that data it is very difficult to act on. It's a real problem. & # 39;
Government advisor Professor Graham Medley, who sits on the Sage Emergency Panel, said, “Delays in reporting affect data flows and make them very difficult to analyze in real time. If the delays change or vary depending on the group, they can become grossly skewed. I wonder what these will do with the R estimates next week. & # 39;
Dr. Duncan Robertson, a modeling and policy analysis expert at Loughborough University, added, “It is important to understand the reason for the delay.
"If it's a delay in reporting, that's bad enough. However, if there has been a delay in adding these cases to the NHS Test and Trace database, it can have a serious impact on the spread of the disease to have."
Critics said if there was a real spike in cases in the days to come, this might be overlooked as it is impossible to tell which infections are new and which are simply filtering the residue.
Mr Johnson and his scientific advisors have repeatedly pointed to rising case numbers to warrant stricter regulations.
Local restrictions depend on the infection data.
A sweep of a dozen cases per week in a small town or district is enough to make the difference between imposing a lockdown or running businesses and families normally.
Michael Brodie, Interim Chief Executive of Public Health England, said last night: & # 39; A technical problem was detected overnight on Friday October 2nd with data loading that showed positive laboratory results of Covid-19 in reporting Dashboards are transferred.
& # 39; After a quick investigation, we found that 15,841 cases were not included in the daily reported Covid-19 cases between September 25 and October 2.
"Each of these cases received the Covid-19 test result as usual, and anyone who tested positive was advised to self-isolate."
Previously, 28 people were registered as dead of coronavirus in the UK in separate hospital records.
The number – ten more than last week – brings the UK death toll during the pandemic to 42,345.
Scotland has reported 758 new cases and no new deaths. There are 432 other cases in Wales but the death toll remains unchanged as no new deaths have been reported.
All 28 deaths were recorded in England, 25 in hospitals in the North East, Yorkshire and the Midlands.
The patients were all between 69 and 94 years old and had underlying health conditions.
The number comes after a "bug in the counting system" was blamed for coronavirus cases that nearly doubled on Sunday – as Boris Johnson suggested contact tracing may have been delayed.
Previously, the prime minister dodged a more elaborate explanation when grilled over the extraordinary spike reported on Sunday with just under 13,000 new cases.
Boris Johnson visited Octopus Energy's London headquarters with Rishi on Monday amid swirling rumors of divisions
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