Friday, 15 May 2020

Minister admits just 1,500 Covid-19 contact tracers have been hired

Just 1,500 coronavirus contact tracers out of a promised 18,000 had been appointed by the start of this week, a Cabinet minister has confirmed.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said that while 'about 15,000' applications have been received, only 1,500 people have currently been hired - in an approach Labour has described as a 'shambles'.

Ministers hope contact tracing will reduce transmission of Covid-19 by identifying and alerting people who may have been exposed to the virus, so they can protect themselves and others around them by self-isolating. 

Mr Lewis told Sky News today: 'I don't think we've got to 18,000 [contact tracers] just yet. I think there's about 15,000 applications... we're looking to, as you say, get up to 18,000.'

Pushed again on how many of the 15,000 applicants have been appointed, he added: 'As of this morning, I'm not sure of exactly how many of the 15,000 have been hired. Earlier in the week, it was about 1,500. It would have gone up since then.'


As the Government's mid-May deadline for the recruitment drive passed, shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves called the approach 'a shambles'.

In a letter to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, Ms Reeves called for answers as to whether there will be enough contact tracers in place to allow the UK to ease its way out of the current lockdown.

Ms Reeves said Labour thought it was a 'mistake' to have stopped contact tracing in March and said it 'supported' moves to establish a 'comprehensive strategy for contact tracing both through the use of a suitable mobile phone app and a manual tracing service'.

Addressing concerns surrounding some children returning to school in June, Ms Reeves said it was the Government's responsibility to make sure schools were safe and to have a comprehensive contact tracing system in place.

'The Government do need to reassure teachers, teaching staff at schools, parents and pupils that it is safe to return - and unless they do that, teachers aren't going to go back into the classroom and parents aren't going to send the young people,' Ms Reeves told Sky News.

Describing some of the steps needed to ensure this, she added: 'That's through a combination of measures. 

'Testing, for example, where I'm afraid the approach so far has been a shambles, ensuring that there are enough rooms in the class to teach children if the class sizes are going to be reduced.

'The onus really is on Government to prove that it is safe and to work with the teachers and the teaching unions rather than treating them as some sort of enemy to progress because that's not going to help anyone.'

In her letter to Mr Gove, Ms Reeves also questioned the reported hiring of private firm Serco to put in place the manual contact tracing team.

'It is my understanding from these reports that Serco have been asked to provide 18,000 staff, despite some public health professionals suggesting as many as 50,000 staff are needed, and that these staff will be provided with just one day of training before starting work,' she said.


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