Dido Harding says her test and trace scheme not 'silver bullet' to tackling Covid-19

Dido Harding takes questions from MPs

Dido Harding takes questions from MPs - Credit: Parliament Live

Testing and trace on its own is not a “silver bullet” to tackling coronavirus, the person in charge of the scheme has claimed.

Baroness Dido Harding, chair of Test and Trace, told a committee of MP that the evidence in the UK and across Europe was that it was just one of a range of interventions needed to tackle the virus.

Giving evidence at a joint session of the Commons health and social care and science and technology committees she said that the R number was much lower now than in the early stages of the pandemic.

This was due to changes in behaviour such as people washing their hands and wearing masks but also due to the effect of the Test and Trace programme, she added.

When asked why the service had not stopped a second wave of infections, Lady Harding said: “Much as I would love that testing and tracing on its own would be a silver bullet to holding back the tide of Covid, unfortunately the evidence in the UK and in every other country in Europe is that’s not the case.

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“That, actually, the way we have to tackle the disease is through a variety of different interventions and we are one of the ways, not the only way.”

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt questioned the impact of NHS Test and Trace saying it only reached a fraction of the estimated cases – largely due to asymptomatic people not being captured by the system.

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With not all cases providing all of their contacts, and then a large proportion of those who do – not following self-isolation rules, Hunt suggested as few as 3% of those who should be in quarantine were actually staying at home.

He said the proportion was certainly not above 20% but Harding told him: “If it’s a tool that contributes to 20% plus of our fight against Covid, then it’s a hugely valuable and important tool.

“I describe it as our second line of defence. Our first line of defence is actually our own behaviour – social distancing, wearing of face masks, washing our hands.

“The harsh reality is that that first line of defence and that second line of defence on their own have not been enough to prevent a second wave, and that is true across the whole of Europe.”

Lady Harding said Test and Trace’s own survey suggested a little over half of those asked to self-isolate for a fortnight complied with the rules.

MORE: Minister says Dido Harding is working '19-hours a day' on Test and Trace

She said preliminary data from the organisation’s own survey carried out from the end of August to mid-September showed “54% of people telling us that they didn’t leave home during the period that they were asked to isolate”.

Harding said: “I’m pleased we live in a liberal democracy where it is quite hard to track where people are every day.

“The majority of people are trying very hard to comply when they are asked to and when they are not it is because they might have just popped out to get some fresh air, or if they have gone anywhere they have gone to buy emergency prescriptions or food.”

Harding also acknowledged that financial pressures could be one reason why people fail to stay at home for the 14-day self-isolation period.

A payment of £500 is available for those on lower incomes who cannot work from home and face a financial hit as a result.

Asked whether a more generous system would help, Harding told MPs: “All the evidence shows that people are not complying with isolation not because they don’t want to but because they find it very difficult.

“The need to keep earning and to be able to feed your family is a fundamental element of it which is why I think the financial support payment is a very good thing.”

She said the actual sum of money on offer “was a decision for the government, for the prime minister and the chancellor”.

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