Sheffield, Leeds and Oxford could be at risk of local lockdowns after the Government’s test and trace blunder left up to 16,000 unreported coronavirus cases.
The three English cities saw a combined 3,758 additional positive cases officially recorded after a major computing error, which potentially puts them on the verge of new restrictions.
The glitch was caused by Downing Street officials using an outdated Excel spreadsheet format which was not capable of displaying all the lines of data, and is the latest in a series of embarrassing blunders from the Government over its handling of the pandemic.
Public Health England on Sunday admitted a total of 15,841 cases were left out of daily reported figures between September 25 and October 2.
It then emerged the cases were not only missing from statistics, but also from vital contact-tracing efforts led by the outsourced NHS Test and Trace.
PHE insisted every person who was tested initially received their test result as normal, with all those testing positive told to self-isolate.
But with medical adviser Susan Hopkins then admitting outstanding cases were only sent at 1am on October 3 with the delay meaning it was up to a week after some people took a test and could have unwittingly spread the disease.
Greg Fell, Sheffield’s director of public health, believes restrictions such as bans on households mixing, are now inevitable in the city.
He told BBC Radio Sheffield on Monday: “My sense is it’s a matter of time and it’s a matter of when, not if.
“I couldn’t judge when but I sense we’ll be in the space that other councils have had an imposed lockdown over the next month.
“I would be surprised if we last that long.”
While Sheffield mayor Dan Jarvis said if further restrictions are imposed “they must sit alongside additional support for our economy” or risk losing “viable businesses”.
Oxfordshire’s director of public health Ansaf Azhar, meanwhile, had already warned last week – prior to the error being discovered – a surge in Oxford cases put the city at risk of “tough” lockdown measures, reports the Oxford Mail.
But Dr Stephen Griffin, a viral oncologist based in the University of Leeds, said it would be difficult for local and national governments to plan responses to Covid cases if they can’t trust the numbers.
He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “One important aspect in the mix up was that we really needed to understand whether the local measures were working – it’s going to be hard to understand that now.
“They need to get us some concrete numbers on whether the rates are coming down. It’s really hard to get to the bottom of it if you can’t rely on your test numbers – it’s hard to know what it going on.”
Leeds’ infection rate per 100,000 is up from 138.8 to 274.5, with 2,177 new cases and Sheffield is up from 91.8 to 233.1, with 1,363 new cases.
In Oxfordshire there were 218 new cases reported over the weekend and a further 101 in Oxford.
Last weekend, the total of new cases for the county was just 48.
Newcastle, where heavier restrictions have already been imposed prior to the IT blunder, saw one of the biggest spikes in reported cases following the addition of the thousands of new cases.
Its figures now stand at 399.6 per 100,000 people in the seven days up to October 1 – up from 256.6 the week before.
The city council’s Labour leader Nick Forbes described the error as “another catastrophic failure from an incompetent Government”.
“Lots of people haven’t been traced in time and I hope that doesn’t mean the city will face yet further restrictions as a result,” he added.
Manchester now has the highest rate in England, with 2,740 cases recorded in the seven days to October 1 – the equivalent of 495.6 cases per 100,000 people, up from 223.2 in the previous week.
Liverpool has the second highest rate, up from 287.1 to 456.4, with 2,273 new cases.
Knowsley is in third place, up from 300.3 to 452.1, with 682 new cases.
Other areas recording sharp increases include Nottingham, which is up from 52.0 to 283.9, with 945 new cases.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he had spoken to Health Secretary Matt Hancock alongside regional mayors from across England and claimed the test and trace system was “letting London and the country down”.
He said: “The delay in reporting nearly 16,000 cases and the tracking of their close contacts is the latest debacle from the Government’s disastrous test and trace system.
“London is at a very serious tipping point and with cases rising it’s essential that we have an accurate picture of the number of cases, and that their contacts are urgently told to self-isolate.
“Today I spoke to the Health Secretary, alongside mayors from across the country, and reminded him that a fully functioning test, trace and isolate system is the only way we will get a grip on this virus, prevent a further lockdown and be able to protect our economy.
“The litany of problems and failures with the system is letting London and the country down.”
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