50,000 Brits with possible coronavirus not contacted due to Microsoft Excel blunder
Nearly 50,000 people potentially infected with coronavirus were missed by contact tracers because of a spreadsheet blunder.
The Government has admitted its “world-beating” system was not told about up to 16,000 people who had tested positive until as much as a week later.
Experts believe each of those people will have come into close contact with an average of three people who should have been told to self-isolate.
It may now be too late to track down around 48,000 people exposed to the virus who may have already contracted it themselves and potentially infected others.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted to MPs that just 51% of the 15,841 people whose results went astray last week had been contacted by the Test and Trace service by 9am yesterday.
That means 49% still had not told the authorities who they might have exposed to coronavirus – up to 10 days after they first tested positive.
PHE has admitted the 15,841 cases were left out of daily reported figures from September 25 to October 2.
It meant weekly infection rates became much higher in several areas, with Manchester and Liverpool hit hardest.
It came as 12,594 new cases were reported, with 19 deaths.
Blasting Mr Hancock, Shadow Health Secretary
Jon Ashworth said: “Thousands blissfully unaware they’ve been exposed, potentially spreading this deadly virus at a time we’re in the second wave.
“This isn’t just a shambles. It’s so much worse. It’s putting lives at risk, and he should apologise.”
Mr Hancock admitted ministers knew about problems with Public Health England’s IT system in July.
It is understood the issue was caused by officials using an outdated Excel spreadsheet format that was not capable of displaying all the lines of data.
Experts were stunned the Government ever used such a basic system for the storage of such sensitive information.
Mr Hancock admitted: “This should never have happened. But the team has acted swiftly to minimise its impact and now it is critical we work together to put this right and make sure it never happens again.”
No10 launched a probe into why the missing cases were not identified before Friday night.
Extra contact tracers were brought in on Saturday morning. Mr Hancock held an emergency call with England’s nine regional mayors.
Manchester now has the highest rate in England, with 2,740 cases recorded in the seven days to October 1 – a rate of 495.6 cases per 100,000 people, up from 223.2 in the previous week.
Liverpool has the second highest rate, up to 456.4 from 287.1, with 2,273 new cases.
Knowsley in Merseyside is in third place, up to 452.1 from 300.3, with 682 new cases.
The figures came from Press Association analysis based on Public Health England data published on Sunday, which also shows sharp rises in Newcastle, Nottingham, Leeds and Sheffield.
Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson said: “The whole testing situation is a dog’s breakfast and this fiasco will make it much harder for us to track the spread of the virus here.”
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes added: “This is yet another catastrophic failure.”
Mr Hancock said the Government’s assessment of the scale of the pandemic had “not substantially changed” based on the new data.
The Prime Minister said the higher updated figures were more in line with forecasts.
No10 said new restrictions last week would not have been handled differently in light of the figures as the decision was based on a broad range of data.
But Mr Ashworth said: “The PM told us on May 20 we would have a world-beating system in place by June. It’s now October.
“The Government is failing on the basics. When will he finally fix this mess?”
Boris Johnson, who is addressing the Tories’ virtual conference today, is this week expected to announce a “three-tier” system to simplify local lockdowns.
Ministers will also set out plans for airport testing.
Wales is considering quarantine restrictions for people arriving from parts of the UK with more cases.
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