Testing tsar Dido Harding admits 20,000 a DAY might flout isolation

Testing tsar Dido Harding admits 20,000 people a DAY might be flouting orders to self-isolate as she says money worries and not having help from friends could be to blame

  • Dido Harding has been grilled by MPs amid alarm about contact tracing figures
  • The peer admitted that 20,000 a day might be flouting orders to self-isolate
  • Suggested money worries and not having friends to bring food among reasons 

Around 20,000 people every day are flouting instructions to self-isolate, the government’s testing tsar admitted today. 

Baroness Dido Harding gave the staggering estimate – and conceded it could be even higher – as she was grilled by MPs.

Amid rising anxiety that the lack of compliance with the Test & Trace system could hamper efforts to control the virus, the peer said evidence suggested 20 per cent of the 100,000 cases and contacts identified every day did not fully obey the rules.

Lady Harding highlighted a range of potential reasons including money worries, not having help from people to obtain food and other essentials, or just finding the isolation too oppressive.   

However, she defended the performance of the Test & Trace scheme despite it failing to hit targets, saying it is on track to reduce the crucial coronavirus R rate by between 0.6 and 0.8 in hospots, but can only ever be ‘one element’ of the response. 

The comments came as Lady Harding was questioned by a joint session of the Commons health and science committees.

Baroness Dido Harding gave the staggering estimate for isolation breaches – and conceded it could be even higher – as she was grilled by MPs

Quizzed by health committee chair Jeremy Hunt, she gave the rough figure of 20,000 a day breaching isolation, but added that her ‘biggest concern’ was many more people did not come forward for testing.

Mr Hunt said: ‘The people we know about are the people we can do something about and there are thousands of those – 20,000 plus or minus every day who are not self-isolating.

‘I’m just wondering why you think that is.’

Asked why she thinks people are not isolating when they should be, Lady Harding said one element is communication – people not understanding and not being clear about what they should and should not do.

She said: ‘The clearer and simpler the guidance, the easier is it for people to follow it.’

The Tory peer said the second element is people finding it ‘practically impossible’ – not having enough food in the fridge, having care responsibilities, having to collect a prescription.

‘Across the country, local authorities have been doing some fantastic work in providing practical support, either directly or through voluntary groups and other third-sector providers,’ she said.

The third reason she gave was the issue of financial support – people who must go out to work as they cannot afford to isolate.

She said it would need to be the case that any financial incentives in place ‘genuinely drives the right behaviour, rather than any unforeseen consequences’.

Mr Hunt said: ‘Thousands of people every day is enough to restart the pandemic.’

Baroness Harding’s fourth reason for people not isolating was mental health – that people find it ‘really difficult and hard’.

She said there is ‘undoubtedly more we can do’ to help people cope with the mental challenges of self-isolation.

People living in the postcodes in England where door-to-door testing is taking place to prevent the spread of the South African variant should consider not going to the shops if they have food in the house, Matt Hancock has suggested

Lady harding said the T&T system was on track to reduce the R number in high prevalence areas by between 0.6 and 0.8 by the end of March.

She told MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee: ‘But with a disease with an unconstrained R in March of over 3, it is impossible for Test and Trace to single-handedly fight the disease.

‘It is always going to be one element of our fight against Covid, not the silver bullet.’

The peer also warned that the more transmissible variants were making the contact tracing process more difficult. 

‘The new variant, which is now endemic and accounts for, I think, more than 70% of cases across the country, I think has broad implications, not just for NHS Test and Trace, but for the whole country, the whole world’s fight against Covid,’ she said.

‘It means that we all have to keep our distance more rigorously, more hand washing, more face-mask wearing.

‘It also means that speeding up our end-to-end Test and Trace journey becomes more imperative.

‘Also, as I think I said earlier, finding more of the positive cases.’

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