LONDON (Reuters) – British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “testing and tracking” could not regulate the coronavir virus in the way an effective system of mass testing could because it protected the performance of the heavily criticized contact tracking system.
The test and tracking system was inefficient and slow, Reuters found after talking to trackers and analyzing the data, which was inadequate to avoid a second wave starting on November 5 and a new English national blockade.
“The test and tracking program worked before the second closure to drastically reduce transfers,” Hancock told lawmakers.
“By the time of the second closure, it had broken transmission chains hundreds of thousands of times.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised a “world-beating” test and tracking system, but has since admitted that although it is improving, it has fallen short of expectations.
Hancock underestimated the central importance of testing and tracing in the government’s antiviral target, adding that mass testing of the population will help.
“Testing and tracking alone can’t control the virus,” he said. “I think mass testing can do that, in a way that it’s much harder to test all the symptomatic people and then track contact.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) and some scientists have pointed out that large-scale population testing can be extremely costly and ineffective.
Hancock said it was important to “link” the national and local aspects of testing and monitoring, and also defended the role of the private sector in the system.
“I’ll take the record … thank you to everyone who’s looking to keep in touch in the private sector because I really don’t like it when people try to push them back,” he said.
(Report by Alistair Smout)