UK govt’s bizarre technical error leads to 16,000 COVID positive cases going unreported

It may seem bizarre, but in the United Kingdom, data of around 16,000 COVID-19 positive cases went unreported for a week.  Due to a data blunder, the Boris Johnson government lost details of 15,841 people who tested positive. This has landed the government in a tight spot and officials are now are urgently trying to trace the contacts and contain the spread of the disease.

Reportedly, the Public Health England blamed a “technical issue” for the omission, which meant 15,841 positive test results went missing from the official daily figures between 25 September and October 2, 2020. It is being said that the data wasn’t recorded as the spreadsheet, that was used to track confirmed cases of the virus, had reached its maximum file size and post that it failed to update any more data.

“Initial findings indicate that the issue was caused by the fact that some files containing positive test results exceeded their maximum file size, and they then failed to load into the central system because they couldn’t get through,” a spokesperson for PHE told BBC News journalist Leo Kelion.


This became a matter of trouble as it raised concerns that thousands of people — who should have been told to self-isolate — were unaware that they had close contact with a Covid-19 case. More than 50,000 potentially infectious people may have been missed by contact tracers and not told to self-isolate because of the data blunder.

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Commenting on the issue, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said “What happened here was that some of the data got truncated and it was lost. But what they have done now is not only contacted all the people who were identified as having the disease – that was done in the first place – but they are now working through all the contacts as well.”

The UK government is now looking to implement possible measures to control the damage. Contact tracers are working extra shifts to tackle the backlog and the government must “determine why the issue wasn’t identified sooner,” Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters on Monday. The prime minister still has “full confidence” in Dido Harding, head of the test-and-trace program, Slack said.

As of now, in the most recent data, 71.3% of positive cases were reached to request a list of contacts, and of those provided, 71.6% were notified and told to self-isolate.

UK’s Weekly COVID-19 surveillance report published on Oct,2. Source- Public Health England

The Johnson government which has already faced a lot of backlash over testing capacity and the failure to make the tracing system effective is now under the radar again. Last week, Johnson apologised for people’s “bad experiences,” and on Sunday acknowledged the system needs improvement.

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