Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Britain's Test and Trace system has had barely any impact on thwarting the spread of Covid, according to official estimates.

The controversial £37billion scheme has been heavily criticised over the past year for being ineffective at breaking the chains of transmission.

New Government modelling found the programme – which critics have described as being the biggest ever waste of taxpayer money – may have only slashed cases by as little as six per cent.

It also estimates that people isolating prevented 1.2million to 2million secondary cases, with NHS Test and Trace responsible for stopping 300,000 to 500,000 of these.

The estimate assumed people with Covid symptoms and their households would still have isolated if testing wasn't on offer.

But health chiefs noted that without the offer of testing, millions more people would have needlessly self-isolated when they weren't infected because they wouldn't have been able to prove they were negative through a swab.

Test and Trace identified around 900,000 positive cases in August, according to official figures.

It comes as Boris Johnson will today warn that the pandemic is 'far from over' as he unveils his 'winter plan, admitting that another lockdown cannot by completely ruled out.

A report published by NHS Test and Trace looked at what impact it had over and above if people with symptoms still isolated without any access to testing.

It did this by analysing the transmission reduction from testing, tracing and isolating from the current scheme.

This was then compared to an imagined scenario where testing was not on offer and households were told to self-isolate if someone developed Covid symptoms.

A panel including 'Professor Lockdown' Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, helped with the modelling.

The study, which looked at the period from last August to April, found the Test and Trace scheme reduced transmission between 10 and 28 per cent.

Will Boris's winter plan be enough to avert lockdown?
Boris Johnson will today warn that the pandemic is 'far from over' as he unveils his 'winter plan' - admitting that another lockdown cannot by completely ruled out.

The PM is set to flesh out his strategy in a press conference this afternoon, after Health Secretary Sajid Javid has given the outline to MPs in a statement.

He will insist that vaccines can be the main defence against the disease, with boosters for the over-50s and jabs for under-16s starting soon.

But blueprint includes the return of compulsory masks, working from home and some social distancing if the NHS is under threat. Vaccine passports will still be an option, even though they will not be introduced in England from next month as originally intended.

And health minister Nadhim Zahawi said this morning that lockdown is on the table as a 'last resort' if infections run completely out of control.

Scientists are already warning that the country is going into the winter with high levels of cases, saying that 'does not bode well' for hopes of avoiding further restrictions.

But if people stayed at home when they suspected they had the virus anyway, like they are supposed to, the testing system only reduced transmission from six to 19 per cent.

However, the report claimed the T&T system was 'critical' in reducing the R rate – a measure of how quickly the virus is spreading – and bringing it below one.

It told 11million people to isolate during the study period.

However, the report warns that the data gives a 'very high-level view of the impact of the whole system', so should not be used to evaluate its specific components.

And it notes that testing and contact tracing may have prevented outbreaks in other settings, such as from hospitals, which were not included in the figures.

It also warned it is 'extremely difficult to estimate how people would really behave' if testing was not in place, so the numbers it assumed would isolate without testing may be overstated and underestimate the impact of Test and Trace.

NHS Test and Trace has contacted more than 14.9million infected people in England and their close contacts and processed over 262million tests since it was launched last June.

Between last August and April, the programme identified between 25 and 65 per cent of infected Britons and their close contacts.

The Department of Health and Social Care said: 'Since its inception, NHS Test and Trace has played an important role in countering this virus – along with the phenomenal vaccination programme – contacting over 14.9million people from across the country and breaking chains of transmission to stop outbreaks.

'With around one in three people with Covid showing no symptoms, regular testing and contact tracing, alongside the wall of defence built by the vaccination programme, are fundamental to ongoing efforts to keep people safe and help the return to a more normal way of life.'

It comes as the Prime Minister is set to flesh out his strategy in a press conference this afternoon, after Health Secretary Sajid Javid has given the outline to MPs in a statement.

He will insist that vaccines can be the main defence against the disease, with boosters for the over-50s and jabs for under-16s starting soon.

Boris Johnston said yesterday: 'The pandemic is far from over, but thanks to our phenomenal vaccine programme, new treatments and testing we are able to live with the virus without significant restrictions on our freedoms.'


Britain is preparing for a long, virulent winter without a single lockdown. Can they pull it off?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is backing booster COVID-19 vaccine shots for vulnerable people and the elderly as part of his plan to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed and future lockdowns as the UK approaches winter.

The prime minister is hoping to avoid a winter like last year, when a second wave fuelled by the Alpha variant caused more than 50,000 deaths on either side of the peak in mid-January 2021.

On Monday, it was announced England's vaccine rollout will expand to those aged between 12 and 15, and on Tuesday it was revealed in the government's 32-page plan that booster shots will be available for those over the age of 50, frontline health workers and the clinically vulnerable – estimated to be around 30 million people.

As well as booster jabs, the government has prepared a "plan B" in the event hospitalisations rise dramatically and the National Health Service is put at risk of being overwhelmed, which could involve mandatory facemask wearing, vaccine passports and a return of working from home.

With another 26,628 people testing positive for COVID-19 and a further 185 deaths recorded on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said in one way the UK was in a more challenging position than it was at the same time last year, when cases hovered around 3,000 per day.

"But in many other crucial respects, the British people – all of us collectively and individually – are incomparably better placed to fight the disease," he said. "We have more than 80 per cent of all over 16s now double vaccinated, and we have COVID anti-bodies in around 90 per cent of the adult population. "Those vaccines are working."

So how exactly is Boris Johnson's government going to prevent another deadly winter?

The UK is backing vaccines to do the heavy lifting over the winter months, with transmission likely to increase as students go back to school, workers return to workplaces and people spend more time indoors as the days get shorter and colder.

Earlier on Tuesday, England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Johnathan Van Tam, said vaccines had saved 112,000 lives since being rolled out at the end of last year.

"Our latest estimates are that since we began deploying these vaccines, they've probably averted in the region of 24 million cases of COVID in the UK and 112,000 deaths — so, incredibly successful to date and remains so," Professor Van-Tam said.

"We're not past the pandemic — we're in an active phase still. "We know this winter could quite possibly be bumpy at times."

Along with advising children aged between 12 and 15 get vaccinated, the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation made the recommendation to deploy booster shots across all four nations in the UK, which will be given at least six months after people had received their second dose of the vaccine.

It said there was evidence of a small decline in effectiveness of the vaccine against hospitalisation for older people, dropping from just over 90 per cent to just under 90 per cent after five to six months. "We've been seeing some waning immunity (in older people)," Dr Robertson said.

"But really, I think what they're trying to do is look forward and look what could happen in the future. and mitigate against that."

At the peak of the pandemic last winter, England alone had more than 30,000 patients in hospitals with COVID-19. Currently there are just over 8,400 across the UK, and the biggest concern for the government remains that figure rising dramatically and the NHS becoming overwhelmed, which would see an increase in deaths from COVID-19 and other causes that would not be able to be treated.

If numbers do start rising, the public will be urged to act more cautiously, face coverings could become legally mandated in settings such as indoors and on public transport, and mandatory vaccine passports could be introduced for large events and other indoor settings.

"The thing I would stress about Plan B is that it contains a number of different shots in the locker and you wouldn't necessarily play them all at once, far from it," Mr Johnson said.

"Because so many of the population have some degree of immunity, smaller changes in the way we're asking people to behave can have a bigger impact."

No more lockdowns?

On Monday, the UK's Telegraph newspaper quoted a senior government source as saying Mr Johnson was "dead set" against another lockdown, as rumours swirled that plans were being drawn up for an October "firebreak" lockdown to try and quell infections.

While there is scant detail of lockdown contingencies in the government's winter plan, on Monday, a Downing Street spokesperson conceded the strategy could not be ruled out if things got out of hand.

Mr Johnson was criticised several times in 2020 for delaying nationwide lockdowns as the virus tore through the country.

But with the success of the vaccines, the prime minister will be loathe do go down the lockdown route again over winter.




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