20,000 people a day in England aren’t isolating when told to by NHS Test and Trace

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read

Watch: 20,000 people a day ignoring Test and Trace instructions to self-isolate, says Baroness Harding

About 20,000 people a day are not self-isolating when told to by the government’s coronavirus contact tracing system, Dido Harding has admitted.

The NHS Test and Trace chief cited research suggesting 20% of people who have tested positive, or who have come into contact with a COVID-19-positive person, do not comply with instructions to self-isolate.

Baroness Harding told senior Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt at the House of Commons science and technology committee on Wednesday: “Let’s take last week’s total number of cases and contacts at circa 700,000 people. So circa 100,000 people a day, so circa 20,000 people a day would not be [complying].

Dido Harding said about 20,000 people a day contacted by Test and Trace are not self-isolating. (Parliamentlive.tv)
Dido Harding said about 20,000 people a day contacted by NHS Test and Trace are not self-isolating. (Parliamentlive.tv)

“I’d put a lot of caveats on that, I understand the desire to get to a simple number, but I think we have to be careful.”

Hunt, who had quizzed Baroness Harding on the matter, said “it is a huge number of people, every single day, who could be passing on the virus”.

The health committee chair also tweeted about the “extraordinary” figure, but incorrectly said it was 20,000 people who “test positive”, when Baroness Harding was in fact referring to 20,000 people who test positive or have have come into contact with a COVID-positive person.

Baroness Harding was also asked why so many people would not be complying with instructions to self-isolate: one of the key premises of the £22bn Test and Trace system.

She gave four reasons:

  • People not understanding and not being clear about what they should and shouldn’t do

  • People finding it “practically impossible”: not having enough food in the fridge, having care responsibilities, having to collect a prescription. But she added local councils and voluntary groups “have been doing some fantastic work in providing practical support”

  • Issue of financial support: people going to work as they cannot afford to isolate

  • Mental health: people finding it “really difficult and hard”. She said there is “undoubtedly more we can do” to help people cope with the challenges of self-isolation

Hunt asked if the government should make up for people’s loss of income if they have to self-isolate. “Is that not an obvious thing to do?”

Baroness Harding rejected this, saying: “You have to think very carefully, once you’re putting financial incentives in place, to make sure that it genuinely drives the right behaviour rather than any unforeseen consequences. I think it’s a bit more complex than you’re suggesting.”

The government currently offers a £500 payment for people on low incomes who can’t work from home and have to self-isolate.

Last month, Boris Johnson rejected the prospect of a £500 payment for everyone who tests positive for coronavirus.

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown