A minister has said she does not know how many people were contacted after after a technical glitch meant almost 16,000 Covid-19 cases went unreported in England.
Public Health England (PHE) said a technical issue resulted in 15,841 cases between September 25 and October 2 being left out of the reported daily coronavirus cases.
Senior officials said the outstanding cases were transferred to NHS Test and Trace “immediately” after the issue was resolved and thanked contact tracers for their “additional efforts” over the weekend to clear the backlog.
All cases were passed on to tracers by 1am on Saturday, meaning potential delays of more than a week in contacting thousands of people who were exposed to the virus and telling them to self-isolate.
PHE said every single person who was tested initially had received their test result as normal, with all those testing positive told to self-isolate.
The technical issue – caused by some data files reporting positive test results exceeding the maximum file size – also means that daily totals reported on the government’s coronavirus dashboard over the last week have been lower than the true number.
The government’s dashboard said that, as of 9am on Sunday, there had been a further 22,961 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, taking the total number of cases in the UK to 502,978.
A note on the dashboard said: “The cases by publish date for 3 and 4 October include 15,841 additional cases with specimen dates between 25 September and 2 October – they are therefore artificially high for England and the UK.”
Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey was asked if she knew how many potential close contacts have not been traced.
She told BBC Breakfast: “I’m afraid I just don’t have that information”, but said PHE had resolved the issue quickly.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner responded: “Not just an issue with data that can be easily rectified, This is about likely tens of thousands of contacts of 15,000 infected people walking around for days spreading the virus, and no tracing of contacts or isolating. Govt incompetence is costing lives.”
Test and Trace and Public Health England joint medical adviser Susan Hopkins said: “All outstanding cases were immediately transferred to the contact tracing system by 1am on 3 October and a thorough public health risk assessment was undertaken to ensure outstanding cases were prioritised for contact tracing effectively.”