England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

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England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by Udon Map » June 18, 2020, 5:07 pm

England’s ‘World Beating’ System to Track the Virus Is Anything But

Like a lot of the country’s pandemic response, contact tracing has been hampered by inconsistency, with much promised but little delivered.

NYT 1.jpg
A street in London this month. The halting start of the virus-tracking operation in England cast doubt on whether the country could reopen the economy without fueling a surge of new infections.
Credit: Tolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


From: The New York Times
By Benjamin Mueller and Jane Bradley

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain unveiled last month a “world beating” operation to track down people who had been exposed to the coronavirus, giving the country a chance to climb out of lockdown without losing sight of where infections were spreading.

As with much of the government’s response to the pandemic, however, the results have fallen short of the promises, jeopardizing the reopening of Britain’s hobbled economy and risking a second wave of death in one of the countries most debilitated by the virus.

In almost three weeks since the start of the system in England, called N.H.S. Test and Trace, some contact tracers have failed to reach a single person, filling their days instead with internet exercise classes and bookshelf organizing.

Some call handlers, scattered in offices and homes far from the people they speak with, have mistakenly tried to send patients in England to testing sites across the sea in Northern Ireland.

And a government minister threatened on a conference call to stop coordinating with local leaders on the virus-tracking system if they spoke publicly about its failings, according to three officials briefed on the call, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Contact tracing was supposed to be the bridge between lockdown and a vaccine, enabling the government to pinpoint clusters of infections as they emerged and to stop infected people from passing on the virus. Without it, a World Health Organization official said recently, England would be remiss in reopening its economy.

But the system, staffed by thousands of poorly trained and low-paid contact tracers, was rushed out of the gate on May 28 before it was ready, according to interviews with more than a dozen contact tracers, public health officials and local government leaders. At the time, the government was making a barrage of announcements while also trying to douse a scandal involving Mr. Johnson’s most senior aide, who had violated lockdown orders.

The troubled rollout has left public health officials across England trying to battle a virus they still cannot locate. Test results from privately run sites, now numbering in the tens of thousands daily, were not being reported at a local level as recently as last week, leaders in six councils said. Public health officials say they catch wind of outbreaks from the news. And while the virus is cooling off in London, infection rates remain high in other parts of England, notably the northwest.

NYT 2.jpg
The troubled roll-out of contact tracing bears the hallmarks of Britain’s other disastrous efforts to respond to the coronavirus: haphazard data, an emphasis on political theater and a heavy dependence on the private sector. Credit: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street

Other nations in Europe are building their public sectors to support contact-tracing systems that might be needed for years to come. Germany, for instance, has hired contact tracers in 375 public health authorities, with doctors on hand to administer tests.

But in England, where a decade of austerity has starved public health departments of workers who used to regularly track illnesses, Mr. Johnson has entrusted the job largely to Serco, an outsourcing giant that was recently obliged to pay the government a hefty fine for fraud on a previous, unrelated contract. The New York Times has learned that the contact-tracing contract, awarded in a secretive procurement process, cost 108 million pounds, or about $136 million.

Allyson Pollock, a professor of public health at Newcastle University, said, “The government has dismantled, fragmented and eviscerated so much of its health service over the last 20 years that it was much more difficult to get a coordinated system.”

“They’re basically trying to build a centralized, parallel, privatized system,” she added.

As a result, she said, “We’ve had far more deaths than we should have. And lockdown has had to go on much longer than in other countries because we’ve let the virus rip for so long.”

Asked for comment, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said that its contact-tracing system was already helping to save lives by curbing the spread of the illness.

“In the first week, tens of thousands of people have engaged with the N.H.S. Test and Trace service,” the spokesman said. “We are working to reach more people and making improvements to the service to do that.”

Garry Robinson, Serco’s customer services director for Britain, said in a statement that the company was “committed to supporting the government’s test and trace program” and had successfully mobilized 10,500 contact tracers in four weeks, which he called a “significant achievement.”

NYT 3.jpg
The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London. A decade of austerity in England has starved public health departments of the workers who used to regularly track illnesses.
Credit: Andrew Testa for The New York Times


The first part of contact tracing involves health professionals calling people who test positive for the virus and obtaining a list of their recent contacts. Then, a lower-level tier of workers call those contacts to ask them to isolate themselves.

But in the first week of virus tracking in England, government figures show, thousands of infected patients were overlooked: Callers reached 5,407 people with the virus, while missing another 2,710 positive cases that had been transferred into the system — along with an unspecified number that had not.

At the same time, contact tracers have waited to be assigned cases that never came, a problem that officials have ascribed to low numbers of new cases and infected people submitting their contacts online instead. One employee, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being fired, said that most days he watched three films, one after the next, at a salary of about $11 per hour.

Local public health officials were asked to make plans by the end of June for possible tailor-made shutdowns around clusters of infections. But they say they still have neither the powers to do that nor the testing data to pinpoint infections.

“We are kind of driving the car while building it,” said Dominic Harrison, the director of public health in Blackburn, in northwest England. “There are still enormous problems to be resolved.”

The troubled rollout bears the hallmarks of Britain’s disastrous efforts to respond to the coronavirus: haphazard data, an emphasis on political theater and a heavy dependence on the private sector. With deaths nearing 50,000, Britain sits alongside the United States and Brazil among the countries suffering the greatest blows from the coronavirus.

After working to trace contacts in the early days of the pandemic, Britain largely scrapped that plan by March 12, with government scientists saying it was no longer practical. Eleven days later, Mr. Johnson declared a lockdown.

The government has denied that contact tracing was ever stopped, and said that to claim otherwise would be entirely wrong. However, in internal notes mistakenly forwarded to The New York Times in response to questions about why it initially ended contact tracing in March, government officials wrote: “The answer to this is we basically didn’t have the testing capacity.”

By April, with the death toll soaring, the government reversed course and promised to reconstitute the system for England.

Other nations within the United Kingdom, including Wales and Scotland, which are in charge of their own contact tracing, appointed public health officials to run their programs.

For England, however, Mr. Johnson’s government contracted Serco and another company to hire most of its 25,000 contact tracers, despite Serco having recently been fined £19 million over claims involving a separate contract that it had charged the government for monitoring convicts who were dead, jailed or living outside the country.

The government said that Serco was regularly monitored and that no concerns had been raised about the company before it was awarded the test and trace contract.

NYT 4.jpg
A London Underground train on Monday. Passengers are now required to wear face masks when traveling on public transport in England.
Credit: Hannah Mckay/Reuters


The government has spent heavily on private companies in its response to the pandemic: Deloitte, an accounting firm, manages testing centers; and Palantir, a data-mining company, has helped organize supplies of protective gear.

But it is trying to do contact tracing on the cheap. While some American states are paying tracers salaries of around $50,000 a year, many English tracers said in interviews that they were paid £8.72 an hour, barely above the minimum wage, a figure equivalent to less than $24,000 a year. Some of them were teenagers who had never held jobs before.

After answering online ads for generic customer service jobs, they started work with little or no training. One Serco-employed contact tracer said that at least a third of his 40 or so colleagues in London had not received any online training before starting.

“We weren’t talked through how a conversation could go or anything,” said a tracer working in Sheffield, England.

Details of the procurement process, shared by a senior civil servant, suggest a possible reason for the low pay and sketchy training: Serco offered to provide the service at an extraordinarily tight profit margin of less than 5 percent, roughly half the margin of the next cheapest contender.

The contract was awarded without any real competition, the senior civil servant said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe a confidential process.

“Serco are pretty much the only people who can stand up a work force in that time, and love them or hate them, it is about having the numbers,” the civil servant said.

The virus-tracking system was supposed to be augmented by a smartphone app that automated some tracing. But the tool, promised initially by mid-May, has been shadowed by fears about technical glitches and data breaches, and the government said it was now trying to introduce the app before winter.

NYT 5.jpg
The N.H.S. contact-tracing app was intended to help corral the coronavirus.
Credit: via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


Even some of the more experienced, higher-paid contract tracers who speak to infected people said they were feeling underutilized. Gerry, a former nurse, said she had expected to begin work as a contact tracer in early June. Instead, at 10:30 p.m. on May 27, she received an email telling her the program would begin the next day. The computer system crashed as thousands of contact tracers tried to log on.

More than two weeks later, she still has not spoken to a single contact. Other contact tracers complained on a private Facebook group that they were still waiting for login details two weeks after the start date, according to screenshots from the group.

Some contact tracers also said they were unaware of any translation services, a problem that could keep England from tracking the virus through migrant and ethnic minority communities, which have suffered disproportionately.

“It’s a total shambles,” said Ben Bradshaw, an opposition Labour lawmaker, who has spoken to government officials about contact tracing.

“Everyone has accepted all the way through this crisis that the countries that have dealt with it best have always had effective track and trace systems in place, and that any country wishing to emerge from lockdown and live with this virus for the foreseeable future will need an effective track and trace system,” he said. “Yet, the history of this in Britain is a catalog of disasters.”

NYT 6.jpg
A memorial in London for the victims of Covid-19 and other illnesses contracted during the coronavirus outbreak.
Credit: Aaron Chown/Press Association, via Associated Press



Courtesy of the New York Times
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/17/worl ... e=Homepage



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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by mech_401 » June 19, 2020, 7:41 am

where are all those who were howling and baying
about the statistics? gleefully throwing up charts,
graphs? spreadsheets? all gone strangely quiet

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by GT93 » July 30, 2020, 2:00 am

This thread about Johnson's self-proclaimed world beating tracking system sank pretty quickly. Perhaps the opening post was a bit much or many know Johnson is another Trump like politician frequently talking nonsense.

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by Earnest » July 30, 2020, 2:59 am

Image
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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by GT93 » July 30, 2020, 7:48 am

The New York Times frequently publishes great pieces on the UK such as the one posted above. When a politician goes for a moniker such as "world beating" it usually results in some egg on the braggart's face. :lol:

And some good laughs for those recalling the big talk.

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by mech_401 » July 30, 2020, 4:49 pm

it's all " show vs substance" . there's not a race of
people on planet who like to talk about themselves more. and how great they are * barf*

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by jackspratt » July 30, 2020, 8:27 pm

Earnest wrote:
July 30, 2020, 2:59 am
Image
I agree westers - but slipping in and out like you do, you are in danger of wearing the same label.

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by GT93 » July 31, 2020, 1:47 am

mech_401 wrote:
July 30, 2020, 4:49 pm
it's all " show vs substance" . there's not a race of
people on planet who like to talk about themselves more. and how great they are * barf*
That's an interesting proposition and worth some reflection. There is a bit of a tendency on the Map to think the UK is the centre of the world but that might be because we have so many lively British posters. One or two of these chaps have soft chins and don't like others joining in. Most of them though are strong broad shouldered gents and appreciate there's a diversity of views.

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by mech_401 » July 31, 2020, 10:42 am

why are they always electing politicians who have
zero qualifications? i mean no applicable schooling or life experience, absolutely none ?
oh , they can give a fancy speech . and look proper
this guy has history degree. he'll be head treasurer
boris another example journalist fired for plagiarizing

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by tamada » July 31, 2020, 11:53 am

GT93 wrote:
July 31, 2020, 1:47 am
mech_401 wrote:
July 30, 2020, 4:49 pm
it's all " show vs substance" . there's not a race of
people on planet who like to talk about themselves more. and how great they are * barf*
That's an interesting proposition and worth some reflection. There is a bit of a tendency on the Map to think the UK is the centre of the world but that might be because we have so many lively British posters. One or two of these chaps have soft chins and don't like others joining in. Most of them though are strong broad shouldered gents and appreciate there's a diversity of views.
...and then there's our dear old mech, fitfully trolling till the cows come home.

For a pathetically small island nation with delusions wrought of past splendors, fair Albion does seem to rent an awful lot of space between his ears. Having said that, we don't really have any idea how far apart they are do we?

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by Whistler » July 31, 2020, 12:44 pm

Mech reminds me of so many conversations had with Americans with a thin knowledge of history and a singular focus not just on America first, but America only

The constant theme was that Britain, France, Australia, et al did not appreciate America saving them in WW11. I would express amazement that America was in WW11 to save the free world. I would suggest that WW11 started in September 1939, America came into the war not as a saviour, but because the Japs kicked the snot out of them Dec 7 1941. Even then they did not declare war on Germany, Hitler declared war against the USA a several days later.

Yes they had a lot of troops, yes that made a difference just as Russia did on the Eastern front, but neither nation came into the war to defeat the Axis powers, they were forced into it against their will.

Poor Britain was the first nation to halt the progress of Hitler's march across the world, by defending the English channel and stopping the Germans in North Africa. Irregular Australian troops were the first to turn back the Japanese army on land in New Guinea, both much smaller nations punched well above their weight as did the plucky Kiwi's, the Poles, the Dutch and many other smaller nations.

Blank looks would follow.
there were two Churchills, one did not play for the Rabbitohs

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by GT93 » July 31, 2020, 1:15 pm

Gentlemen, gentlemen please. The New York Times and the thread are pointing the finger at yet more bollocks from Johnson. He fibs an awful lot. Trump isn't the only con artist in the big seat. :lol:

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by GT93 » August 2, 2020, 1:19 am

I'll give Johnson his due, the British government is actively trying to manage the Covid 19 pandemic. The British media is full of reports on the British government carrying out its duties. It's also listening to the science. That's not so in the US. The Trump administration appears to be doing little or nothing. And not listening to the science.

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by Zidane » August 2, 2020, 7:06 am

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Just when I thought our chance had passed,you go and save the best for last.

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by rick » August 4, 2020, 4:42 pm

Contact tracing in the UK has been royally screwed up. Initially, it was done successfully by NHS at first but they had only a handful of trained staff. Once the outbreak took off they were overloaded, so middle of March the government decided to outsource the contact tracing to a private company (and did they know how to do it? NO!). The NHS contact tracing staff were meant to be incorporated, in fact they spent most of their time sitting at home doing nothing, because the information just wasn't being forwarded to them - at least 50% of known contacts were never informed. No wonder April and May were so bad.

And then the telephone tracing App - which didn't work as it wasn't properly tested and got scrapped. How much money was wasted on those contracts we do not really know, but tens, if not hundreds of millions. The current government has an unenviable record of dishing out contracts to their friends, but getting a crap service in return (e.g. the Brexit ferries contract to a company with no ferries!)

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by GT93 » August 4, 2020, 5:27 pm

Some countries seem to have done the contact tracing very well. South Korea and Taiwan come to mind. It now appears to be a critical government function. There will be significant health and economic rewards for countries doing contact tracing well.

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by GT93 » August 5, 2020, 1:58 am

I see Labour is now dialling up the pressure on tracing:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/20 ... ace-system
Ministers have one month to fix the broken test-and-trace system and halt a devastating second wave of coronavirus or Britain will face a “long and bleak winter”, Keir Starmer says today. The Labour leader warned there is “precious little evidence” of serious preparation for a resurgence in Covid-19 cases.

Writing for the Guardian, Starmer calls for mass testing of asymptomatic people and a clear plan setting out what “hard decisions” Boris Johnson is prepared to take in order to keep schools open if cases rise over coming weeks. Starmer says the prime minister must admit his “world-beating” £10bn system is flawed. “His repeated refusal to accept that test and trace isn’t functioning properly is a roadblock to fixing the issues and restoring public confidence,” he writes.
Johnson needs to start acting like and being a problem solver. Thousands of lives are at stake.

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by Earnest » August 16, 2020, 12:32 am

jackspratt wrote:
July 30, 2020, 8:27 pm
Earnest wrote:
July 30, 2020, 2:59 am
Image
I agree westers - but slipping in and out like you do, you are in danger of wearing the same label.
Yes, probably.

In UK as a whole, there were 3 deaths recorded in the latest 24 hours with around 1012 being identified as infected. Is the shape of the viral impact on UK changing. Some are saying that the age group most prevalent with infection is the 26-44 age group with over 100,000 being tested (although not sure of the period with respect to testing being undertaken).

https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/?_ga=2. ... 1597512504
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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by GT93 » August 16, 2020, 4:29 am

It would be interesting to read what experts think are the main drivers for this success.

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Re: England: Ahead or Behind The Curve on Containing the Virus?

Post by AlexO » August 16, 2020, 6:07 am

GT93 wrote:
August 16, 2020, 4:29 am
It would be interesting to read what experts think are the main drivers for this success.
Pretty obvious that the total lockdown was the main contributor to the fall in the number of cases as can be seen in the gradual rise in numbers after the lockdown was eased (just look at what is happening throughout mainland Europe with their 'back to normal' policies). Isolation does seem to be the only working solution at this time. I really don't fancy taking Putin's vaccine to be honest.

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