How computer blunder hit the UK’s Test and Trace system

Current figures show that, for each person who tests positive, tracers find three others who have been in close contact and who might be infected, amounting, in this case, to 47,523.

Research by Imperial College London shows that 20 per cent of people who have been in close contact with an infected person are infected, which would suggest around 10,000 contacts of the original cases may now have contracted the virus.

Old format caused spreadsheet glitch

The problem arose with a centralised spreadsheet created to automatically collect data logged by private companies carrying out swab tests, so results could then be fed into the Test and Trace system as well as into Government dashboards showing infection rates.

However, PHE used an old format for the spreadsheet, which could only record 65,000 rows of data, when modern versions can record millions. 

Because each positive test created multiple rows of data, the spreadsheet could only record around 1,400 cases.

In previous weeks, the number of positive tests recorded remained below this cap. However, the surge in infections last week – which followed repeated warnings that a surge was expected – saw the data cap hit, so thousands of cases went unrecorded. 

Huge surge in cases

Updated data now shows huge rises in infections occurring in areas that looked as though they were coping. 

Nottingham, which was not on the Government’s Covid “watch list”, has seen weekly cases rise to 283.9 per 100,000, which last week would have made it as the worst area in the country when compared with the pre-adjusted figures.

Although the Department for Health has insisted the new figures do not impact the list or alter current restrictions, Nottingham residents have been warned to brace for lockdown (the graphic below shows rates of infection across the UK).

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Nearly 16,000 Coronavirus Cases Were Missed From The UK’s Tally After A Computer Glitch

Nearly 16,000 Coronavirus Cases Were Missed From The UK's Tally After A Computer Glitch

The blunder has hampered efforts to contact those who may have been exposed to the virus


3 min read

A “technical glitch” in England’s test and trace system has resulted in major delays in handing over the details of almost 16,000 positive cases to contact tracers.

Public Health England said 15,841 positive tests carried out between 25 September and 2 October had been added to the UK’s daily case totals over the weekend after a computer glitch meant they were not recorded on time.

The blunder saw the UK’s positive case figures soar after the backlog was finally added to the official tally, with 12,872 cases recorded on Saturday and a further 22,961 on Sunday.

PHE insisted all those who had been tested during the period had recieved their results as normal, with those testing positive for the virus being asked to self-isolate.

But they conceded the delay meant the close contacts of those confirmed to have the virus were not contacted by the NHS test and trace system.

Michael Brodie, the interim head of Public Health England said the “technical issue” had been spotted on Friday evening, meaning contact tracers were not handed the details until 1am on Saturday morning.

It is believed the glitch was caused by data files recording positive test results exceeding the maximum file size allowed by the system.

“After rapid investigation, we have identified that 15,841 cases between 25 September and 2 October were not included in the reported daily Covid-19 cases. The majority of these cases occurred in the most recent days,” Mr Brodie said.

“Every one of these cases received their Covid-19 test result as normal and all those who tested positive were advised to self-isolate.

“NHS test and trace and PHE have worked to quickly

Nokia Expands 5G Deal With U.K.’s BT to Fill Huawei Void

A Nokia OYJ ultra deployable 5G Massive MIMO millimeter wave antenna.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Nokia Oyj has extended its relationship with BT Group Plc to supply the British phone company with gear for its high-speed fifth-generation mobile networks.

The deal will make Nokia, BT’s largest provider of radio access equipment — the wireless network’s antennas — the Finnish company said in a statement on Tuesday. BT’s fourth-generation mobile network is currently about two-thirds Huawei Technologies Co. and one-third Nokia.

The network gear maker is filling a void left by Huawei after the U.K. set out rules this year banning the Chinese company from supplying phone companies with 5G equipment and requiring Britain’s carriers to remove all of its 5G gear by 2027.

Read More: U.K. Phone Market Will Be Duopoly for Years After Huawei Ban

BT’s 5G supplier for the sensitive network core is Ericsson AB, and Nokia’s Swedish rival could also win more work from BT as the carrier plans to phase out its Huawei gear.

Nokia currently has an agreement to supply equipment to BT in the greater London area, the Midlands — which covers an area in the middle of England that includes the city of Birmingham — and some other rural parts of the country. The deal announced Tuesday will expanded coverage to areas including Aberdeen, Cambridge and Brighton, Nokia said.

Other U.K. carriers are also busy plotting their post-Huawei futures. CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd’s Three UK recently signed a deal with Ericsson, ripping up its plan to rely on the Chinese vendor.

— With assistance by Kati Pohjanpalo

(Updates with context in sixth paragraph)

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