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Sun May 31, 2020, 11:26 AM

UK abandoned testing because system 'could only cope with five coronavirus cases a week'

Disastrous decision is now seen as the key reason why UK has Europe's highest death rate

Britain’s disastrous decision to abandon testing for coronavirus occurred because health systems could only cope with five cases a week, official documents show.

Newly-released papers from the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies shows routine testing and tracing of contacts was stopped because Public Health England’s systems were struggling to deal with a handful of cases.

At a meeting on Feb 18, advisors said PHE could only cope with testing and tracing contacts of five Covid-19 cases a week, with modelling suggesting it might only be possible to increase this to 50 cases.

Advisors then agreed it was "sensible" to shift to stopping routine testing - despite acknowledging that such a decision would “generate a public reaction”....


(Text after the .... only viewable with a Telegraph subscription.)

I've not been posting much, if at all, about the pandemic and fuck-ups around lockdown etc. because the situation's so messed up and we're all up to our necks in it anyway, so why add to the air of doom we're powerless to do anything about apart from try to safeguard ourselves and those around us? But this revelation seems appalling enough to be noted.

The fact that abondoning testing may have suited the initial (and perhaps ongoing in some UK government quarters, who knows?) drive for mythical "herd immunity" and prioritizing economic considerations over our health and lives may also be a significant factor.

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Reply UK abandoned testing because system 'could only cope with five coronavirus cases a week' (Original post)
Denzil_DC May 2020 OP
Denzil_DC May 2020 #1
T_i_B Jun 2020 #2
Denzil_DC Jun 2020 #3

Response to Denzil_DC (Original post)

Sun May 31, 2020, 02:44 PM

1. This has been Tweeted by some as a supposed "rebuttal" from health specialist Dr Richard North:

Coronavirus: thick as mince

The one thing for which we can thank Dominic Cummings is his popularising the phrase "thick as mince". Even though it's had currency since 2006, few had heard of it before he so spectacularly applied it to David Davis in 2017.

Giving it an airing again, it is particularly apt to apply it to the witless hacks of The Sunday Telegraph who today really excel themselves in their pursuit of "secret squirrel" reporting, thereby completely missing the point.

In the breathless style so typical of the legacy media, their (online) headline declares: "Revealed", as the hacks, Laura Donnelly, the health editor, and Tom Morgan, then tell us that: "test and trace was abandoned because system 'could only cope with five coronavirus cases a week'". This has been translated into a suitably lurid headline for the front page of the print edition.

Here, they are relying on the newly-released Sage papers as their source, and in particular the minutes of the meeting on 18 February where it is "revealed" that Public Health England (PHE) "can cope with five new cases a week", which will require the isolation of 800 contacts.

In the end, the picture North paints isn't really any better (nor do I think he intends it to be). SAGE was following a wrong-headed path based on the models based on this being a standard flu epidemic, the country was terribly badly prepared, and the response was (and still is) completely flat-footed, not least because politics - and the careeer and ambitions of Dominic Cummings - have been allowed to interfere with public health considerations:

Where the errors come, therefore, are at the planning stage, in not preparing a contingency plan for a SARS-like disease and then, as this pandemic took hold in the UK, the response wasn't flexible enough (or quick enough) to realise that the flu plan was no longer viable.

It is true though that, had the scientists and assembled "experts" at Sage realised the game was up, there was nothing immediately that could have been done, because of capacity issues. But, at least, they could have sounded the alarm, and got an expansion programme underway.

As it is, it was some weeks before a decision was made to reinstate the test and trace operation, on a flawed basis that has little chance of working effectively. But that is another story.

In response to the Telegraph article, someone tweeted an important question:

physicspodcast.com @physicspod

The same SAGE paper you're quoting from here (on 18th Feb) suggests 5 cases => 8,000 isolations to be sure of containment. So 1 case isolates 160 contacts.

We have 6,000-8,000 new cases per day now. Is test, track, + trace ready to tell nearly a million people to isolate?

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Response to Denzil_DC (Original post)

Sat Jun 20, 2020, 10:33 AM

2. What went wrong with the UK's contact tracing app?


After months of work, the UK has ditched the way its coronavirus-tracing app works, prompting a blame game between the government and two of the world's biggest tech firms. So what went wrong?

On 10 April came a surprising announcement from Google and Apple. The two tech giants - on whose software virtually all the world's smartphones depend - said they were going to develop a system that would help Bluetooth contact-tracing apps work smoothly. But there was a catch - only privacy-focused apps would be allowed to use the platform. Apple and Google favoured decentralised apps, where the matching between infected people and their list of contacts happened between their phones. The alternative was for the matching to be done on a central computer, owned by a health authority, which would end up storing lots of very sensitive information.

The app the NHS was developing was based on a centralised model, which the Oxford scientists felt was vital if the health service was to be able to monitor virus outbreaks properly. But immediately privacy campaigners, politicians and technology experts raised concerns. "I recognise the overwhelming force of the public health arguments for a centralised system, but I also have 25 years' experience of the NHS being incompetent at developing systems and repeatedly breaking their privacy promises," said Cambridge University's Prof Ross Anderson.

Around lunchtime on 18 June all became clear. The BBC broke the story that the government was abandoning the centralised app and moving to something based on Google and Apple's technology. Despite all the spin, the Isle of Wight trial had highlighted a disastrous flaw in the app - it failed to detect 96% of contacts with Apple iPhones.

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Response to T_i_B (Reply #2)

Sat Jun 20, 2020, 04:04 PM

3. Despite much noisy criticism from the Scottish Tories, among others in the Opposition,

the Scottish NHS opted out of the English and Welsh NHS tracing app and developed its own, based on the Google/Apple approach:

Three Scottish trusts trial Covid-19 contact-tracing software

Contact-tracing software is being trialled across three trusts in Scotland in a bid to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak.

The technology will be tested in NHS Fife, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Highland from 18 May.

The pilot, expected to last two weeks, will allow the trusts to test the software, which will be used by contact tracers to collect the information they need digitally.

Tracers will then be able to contact those suspected of coming into contact with coronavirus.


Northern Ireland won't be using an app at all, but relying on physical contract tracing: How Northern Ireland relaunched contact tracing for covid-19 a month before the rest of the UK

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