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COVID-19 track-and-trace army of 25,000 tracers to launch this week – if app’s glitches are fixed

Ministers will launch the vaunted new track-and-trace programme this week with an army of 25,000 recruits battling to lead Britain out of the coronavirus crisis.

The plan – to track down those who have been in close contact with Covid-19 victims and isolate them to stop the chain of transmission – will swing into action as ‘part of the largest virtual call centre operation in the country’.

Using a model which has proved effective in other countries and which has been trialled with an app on the Isle of Wight, tracers will contact those who test positive for the virus. 

The coronavirus track-and-trace programme will be launched by ministers this week with 25,000 recruits helping out to operate the system

The coronavirus track-and-trace programme will be launched by ministers this week with 25,000 recruits helping out to operate the system

The coronavirus track-and-trace programme will be launched by ministers this week with 25,000 recruits helping out to operate the system

The tracing app has been successfully used in other countries and was recently trialled by the UK in the Isle of Wight

The tracing app has been successfully used in other countries and was recently trialled by the UK in the Isle of Wight

The tracing app has been successfully used in other countries and was recently trialled by the UK in the Isle of Wight

They will then ask them for information about people they have been in prolonged contact with who may have been exposed – most likely household members or workplace colleagues.

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘A test-and-trace system lets us identify and isolate new infections so that we can control the spread of this virus, which will be vital while coronavirus remains present in the UK.

‘As we continue on the road to recovery this will mean that, in time, lockdown will no longer be necessary for the majority of the public and instead it will be possible for there to be a targeted lockdown for a small number of people.’

The announcement came as Baroness Dido Harding, appointed to lead the programme, was revealed to have sat on the board of the Jockey Club, which gave the controversial green light for the Cheltenham Festival.

It was blamed for causing a spike in Covid-19 infections in the area after 60,000 racegoers descended on the course on March 10 for the four-day event. 

Baroness Dido Harding (pictured), who gave the green light to let the Cheltenham Festival go ahead in March, is leading the contact tracing app planning process

An investigation by The Mail on Sunday has also revealed that the recruitment and training of contact tracers for the programme has been chaotic, despite Boris Johnson’s pledge to MPs that a ‘world-beating’ system would be in place by June 1.

Insiders who volunteered for senior ‘clinical’ contact tracing positions told this newspaper how the programme has been beset by teething problems.

In one case, an environmental health officer (EHO) – who had himself designed a contact tracing system for infectious diseases – gave up on being recruited after ‘getting lost’ in NHS bureaucracy. 

‘It was like banging your head against a brick wall,’ he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured) promised MPs that a 'world-beating' tracing system would be in place by June 1, though the recruitment and training of contact tracers has been 'chaotic'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured) promised MPs that a 'world-beating' tracing system would be in place by June 1, though the recruitment and training of contact tracers has been 'chaotic'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured) promised MPs that a ‘world-beating’ tracing system would be in place by June 1, though the recruitment and training of contact tracers has been ‘chaotic’ 

In another, a nurse said she could not undertake online training because the modules were not ready yet. ‘It’s been incredibly frustrating,’ she added.

And basic technical issues, such as contact tracers working from home who found themselves unable to log in to the computer system, are continuing to dog efforts.

Ministers had been warned by their scientific advisers of the importance of having manual tracers to keep a lid on coronavirus – and how their original plan, which relied on unqualified call centre staff on minimum wage, would not work.

It led them to increase the number of clinical contact tracers required – people such as doctors, nurses and EHOs – from 3,000 to 7,500 in what experts see as tacit recognition that the original scheme was flawed. 

Despite the improvements, however, many clinical contact tracers have been disappointed by their experience with recruiters at NHS Professionals.

The EHO, who is recently retired, was approved but said he was then advised to contact NHS organisations himself to offer his services.

The new testing system will be needed as coronavirus has swept through the UK with 36,675 fatalities so far due to the virus

The new testing system will be needed as coronavirus has swept through the UK with 36,675 fatalities so far due to the virus

The new testing system will be needed as coronavirus has swept through the UK with 36,675 fatalities so far due to the virus 

‘I couldn’t find any that were recruiting contact tracers,’ he said. The EHO then sought advice from NHS Professionals. ‘I tried to call their number 12 to 15 times over four days but no one picked up.

‘On one occasion, I let it ring for 40 minutes,’ he said, adding that in the end he gave up trying to offer his services. ‘It all seemed a bit of a mess. I’m happy to help but I’m not desperate for the work and, at the end of the day, it’s just not worth the grief.’

The nurse said that after signing up last week the online training modules ‘simply weren’t there’. She added: ‘It’s concerning we’re having to wait for the training when we’re supposed to be carrying this out as a matter of urgency.

‘Has it been thought through? It doesn’t feel like it – it comes across as though they’re making it up as they go along.’

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesman disputed the EHO’s account of recruitment problems, adding: ‘We are rolling out this programme at unprecedented speed to tackle coronavirus outbreaks and, over time, help us to safely lift some lockdown measures.’

Source: Daily Mail

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