Johnson Minimizes Technical Failure of COVID-19 Test Data System

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday sought to minimize a failure in England’s COVID-19 test data system that delayed 15,841 results, saying the much higher updated figures were more in line with the epidemic’s spread forecasts.

But the issue is likely to cast further doubt on Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic: his Tory government’s response has been described by political opponents as slow, poorly organized and confusing.

Authorities on Sunday reported an increase in daily COVID-19 cases to a record 22,961, after saying a technical glitch meant thousands of test results had not been transferred to computer systems at time, including for contact tracers.

“The incidence we’re seeing in the cases is really roughly where we thought we were,” Johnson said, speaking to reporters.

“To be frank, I think the slightly lower numbers we saw didn’t really reflect where we thought the disease was likely to go, so I think those numbers are realistic,” Johnson said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Parliament the technical issue had yet to be resolved. “This incident should never have happened,” he said.

Johnson, who earlier this year pledged a ‘world-beating’ test and traceability system, said more recently that there had been mistakes but that the government was facing the biggest health crisis since 1918 flu epidemic.

“WINTER BEFORE”

Data released on Monday showed there were 12,594 new positive COVID-19 test results – suggesting that the upward trend in cases seen before the technical hitch was discovered continues unabated.

The number of COVID-19 patients in English hospitals also reached its highest level since the end of June, at 2,593.

“Now more than ever with winter ahead, we all need to stay vigilant and get this virus under control,” Hancock said.

Public Health England said all those whose tests had been the subject of the problem had received their results in a timely manner, and those who had tested positive had been asked to self-isolate.

Asked about a vaccine, Johnson said it looked like an AstraZeneca AZN.L the project must be on the verge of becoming one. “We are working very, very hard to get one,” Johnson said. “We’re not there yet.”

He added: “I went to see the Oxford scientists at the Jenner Institute, the AstraZeneca team – it’s amazing what they do. You know you really think they must be about to do it, but it must be properly tested.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, William James, Estelle Shirbon, William Schomberg and Andy Bruce; edited by Kate Holton, Michael Holden and Mark Heinrich


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