LONDON — An epic fail of a simple computer program “lost” nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases in England for more than a week, British public health officials said.
Everyone who tested positive was informed. But the cases were left out of the daily totals between Sept. 25 and Friday and ignored by contact tracers during that time. Given the average number of in-person contacts, that means as many as 50,000 people may have been exposed without being called about it.
By Monday morning, only half of the 16,000 who tested positive had gotten a contact tracing call. The other half “should be contacted as soon as possible,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who was excoriated in the House of Commons by lawmakers.
The accounting error – blamed on operators entering data in an Excel spreadsheet program – was another serious stumble for the British government, at a crucial moment, when it is daily trying to decide where to tighten regional restrictions to slow a second wave of the virus.
After the error was spotted and the lost cases accounted for, the government’s report of new daily infections nearly doubled – from 12,872 on Saturday to 22,961 on Sunday – sparking renewed angst among officials in London and England’s north, where most of the new cases were centered.
Michael Brodie, the interim head of Public Health England, said the issue was identified late