SNP ministers have been urged to “call in the contact tracing cavalry” after procedures to help halt the spread of the virus were scaled back to cope with a soaring number of cases.
With daily case numbers soaring, the most recent figures show that 14% of cases took longer than 72 hours to close, and 43% took longer than 48 hours. In early April, only 3% of cases took more than 72 hours to close and 6.6% took more than 48 hours.
With Scotland now recording record levels of daily case numbers, Test and Protect has been forced to reduce the window for tracing close contacts of positive cases from five days to just 48 hours and cut the number of questions being asked during interviews – resulting in “incomplete” information being handed over to officials.
Officials have now stopped phoning close contacts and those arriving from overseas and instead are sending text messages, while all secondary contract tracing has been halted.
The Scottish Government said it has “taken steps to increase capacity” for Test and Protect in reaction to the surge in positive case numbers.
Speaking on Good Morning Scotland, national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch admitted that officials taking more than 24 hours to trace contacts is contributing to wider spread of infection.
He said: “It potentially does lead to a bigger spread of the virus.”
Scottish Labour’s health and Covid recovery spokesperson, Jackie Bailie, said the acknowledgement by Professor Leith shows “the SNP’s mismanagement of Test and Protect is helping the virus to spread”.
She added: “Test and Protect is collapsing under the pressure as cases spiral, and things will only get worse if we don’t fix this.
“Minsters are cutting corners all over the place to try and keep the system afloat, but that will only make things worse.
“It is beyond irresponsible and it is public health that will pay the price.
“The SNP need to deal with this shambles and give test and protect the resources it needs urgently.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader, Willie Rennie, has called on ministers to boost the number of contact tracers in order to get on top of the rise in cases.
He said: “The current test and protect system is failing us and potentially putting thousands at risk.
“Plummeting performance and the decision to turn off some contact tracing activities altogether because of a shortage of capacity must set alarm bells ringing.
“With Scotland facing its highest level of infections yet, now is the time to call in the contact tracing cavalry and ensure that there are enough staff to reverse this week’s collapse in contact tracing performance. This is the test of whether the Scottish Government has the extra staff that it promised would be available if necessary.”
Mr Rennie added: “Scottish Liberal Democrats 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. And here we are in summer 2021 saying the same thing. “We need a fully functioning system, fully staffed to keep all of us safe.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, Annie Wells, said: “SNP ministers have once again taken their eye off the ball. This time it is their failure to ensure that the vital Test and Protect system is working as well as it should be.
“With over 4,000 cases having been recorded in Scotland for the first time, it is imperative people are contacted as quickly as possible to stop any further spread of the virus.
“The system is clearly completely overwhelmed with the spike in cases in recent weeks and SNP ministers must get on top of this situation immediately.”
She added: “The public would understandably be angry if continued failures within the Test and Protect system meant any potential delays to the further easing of restrictions. That would have a devastating impact on individuals and businesses.
“SNP ministers cannot continue to pretend everything is fine. They must urgently outline how they will fully support Test and Protect operators to do their job as effectively as they can.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “At a time when we are facing a record high number of positive cases, our Test and Protect system has continued to operate well, meeting our closest proxy measure to the World Health Organization criteria of closing 80% of close contacts within 72 hours.
“We have taken steps to increase capacity within our contact tracing system, to account for the growing number of Covid cases. People are now sharing more information about their contacts and places they have visited digitally instead of over the phone.”