Government appointed fewer than 10% of its target for contact tracers, minister admits

Brandon Lewis speaks from Great Yarmouth on developments during the coronavirus outbreak. Photograph

Brandon Lewis speaks from Great Yarmouth on developments during the coronavirus outbreak. Photograph: Sky News. - Credit: Archant

A government minister has admitted just 1,500 of the government's target of 18,000 contact tracers have been appointed.

Contact tracers will have a key role in managing the spread of coronavirus when the lockdown is lifted - ensuring that those who are showing signs of infection are quickly isolated.

The government had previously insisted that 18,000 contact tracers would be in place by 'mid-May', and later claimed they would be ready by next week.

Asked how many of the 18,000 contact tracers wanted have been appointed, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told Sky News: 'I don't think we've got to 18,000 just yet, I think there's about 15,000 applications, we're looking to as you say get up to 18,000.'

Pushed again on how many of the 15,000 applicants have been appointed, he added: 'As of this morning I'm not sure of exactly how many of the 15,000 have been hired, earlier in the week it was about 1,500, it would have gone up since then.


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'As of this morning I'm not sure of exactly how many of the 15,000 have been hired, earlier in the week it was about 1,500, it would have gone up since then.'

Lewis later told talkRADIO that there had been 15,000 applications and they were hoping for more applications today.

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He admitted: 'We're just starting the actual formal recruiting process at the moment'.

Previously Labour had expressed concern that the 18,000 figure was too slow - suggesting that it should be closer to 50,000 to help control the spread.

It had also raised concern in outsourcing the work to private contractor Serco.

Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, told her opposite number Michael Gove there must be 'transparency and accountability for the huge sums of taxpayers' money'.

'It is widely reported that the government has awarded a contract to Serco to run call centres to provide manual contact tracing,' she wrote.

'It is my understanding from these reports that Serco have been asked to provide 18,000 staff, despite some public health professionals suggesting as many as that 50,000 staff are needed, and that these staff will be provided with just one day of training before starting work. 'Contact tracing is a skilled role, handling highly sensitive information, the consequences of which are profound both in terms of public health and the economy.

'Yet job advertisements for manual contact tracing staff are presented as a 'work from home opportunity', at an hourly rate of less than the living wage. 'Applicants are required to have their own computer access and it is not clear who their direct employer will be.'

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