FOLLOW-UP checks by phone are no longer taking place on people arriving from red and amber list countries to Scotland amid fears Test and Protect systems are struggling to cope with a surge in positive cases and halt importation of the virus.
On Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon insisted that the Test and Protect contact tracing system was still coping –despite a surge in confirmed cases.
But a report published today by Public Health Scotland confirms that as of June 23, “the National Contact Tracing Centre (NCTC) have paused calling those arriving from red countries”.
Those arriving in Scotland from red list countries – including Brazil, Egypt, India, South Africa and Turkey – are required to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.
The report adds: “All travellers (no-exempt) will instead receive an SMS text message, providing them with appropriate information on self-isolation and testing.”
Fears have been raised that the system is being overwhelmed by positive cases, leading to the decision to cut the amount of interaction officials have with cases and their contacts.
The Public Health Scotland report adds that since June 18, “as a result of rapidly increasing case numbers, contact tracers have reverted to, by default, contacting close contacts by SMS, to ensure that timely public health advice to given to people”.
New statistics show that in the week ending June 27, out of 8,012 cases required to quarantine, 583 successful contacts were made – only 7% of cases.
In the previous week, 37% were contacted – with a steady decline from 92% in May, the week before the traffic light system was introduced.
Scottish Labour’s health and Covid recovery spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, said: “This report exposes what the SNP has been trying to deny – that test and protect is not fit for purpose.
“Importing of new strains of the virus from abroad is one of the biggest risks we face, particularly as international travel ramps up again.
“If test and protect is coping, as Ministers insist it is, then the decision to suspend checks is utterly baffling.”
She added: “The reality is the system is overwhelmed and corners are being cut as a result.
“The Government must give test and protect the resources it needs to deliver its vital role and help keep us all safe.”
The Scottish Lib Dems have also raised concerns, claiming Test and Protect is “buckling under pressure”.
`The Public Health Scotland report shows that in the week ending 20 June, 50% of people were interviewed within 24 hours – but between June 21 and June 25, this rate dropped to just 29%.
In the same week, the proportion of people waiting over 48 hours for an interview increased from 15% to 28%, meaning hundreds more people were waiting a long time to be interviewed.
Lib Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain said: “These are clear indications that the Test and Protect system is buckling under pressure. It’s taking far too long to gather critical information.
“People have made huge sacrifices to save lives and buy time. We warned last summer that gaps in Test and Protect would contribute to a second wave. We warned in December that the system needed ramping up to meet the challenge of new strains.”
She added: “The Scottish Government has had months to plan for this increase in cases and the management of fans around the Euros but spent that all time insisting everything was working well. That complacency is now really costing us.
“The system needs urgent reinforcements. We need more tracers to be able to go and hunt down the virus because every minute counts.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ““International travellers are treated differently according to the country they have travelled from, and those coming from red list countries have to enter managed isolation.
“All travellers will receive an SMS text message providing them with appropriate information on self-isolation.
“Travellers from amber list countries are required to isolate at home and take three tests, minimising the risk of them transmitting the virus if positive. These travellers are still contacted by e-mail to remind them of the requirements.
“Green list countries travellers are required to still take a pre-departure test and a test on day two after arrival. This approach balances the risk of importing new cases with the need to reprioritise Test & Protect resources.”