Public health leaders were slow to act on repeated warnings over Christmas 2020 that contact tracing and isolation should be triggered immediately after a positive lateral flow test result, leaked evidence to the Covid inquiry shows.
A scathing “lessons learned” document written by Dr Achim Wolf, a senior test and trace official, and submitted to the inquiry, gives his account of a trail of missed opportunities to improve the NHS test-and-trace regime in the first winter and spring of the pandemic – before vaccines were available.
It suggests that people will have unnecessarily spread the virus to friends and relatives in the first Christmas of the pandemic and subsequent January lockdown period because they were not legally required to isolate and have their contacts traced as soon as they got a positive lateral flow test.
Instead, for around two months, those eligible for rapid testing were told to get a confirmatory PCR test after a positive lateral flow. About a third of those who subsequently got a negative PCR result were likely to have had Covid anyway.
In the “lessons learned” document seen by the Guardian, Wolf says: “Over the winter months, the prevalence in individuals who had 1) a positive lateral flow; followed by 2) a negative PCR; may have been upwards of 30%. These individuals were then allowed to return to their high-risk workplaces.”
The former head of policy at NHS test and trace highlights how it took too long to get clear advice from Public Health England about policy on contact tracing and isolation rules in the face of changing scientific evidence on the accuracy of lateral flows.
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Source: The Guardian, 30 November 2022