20:51 GMT17 April 2021
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    The United Kingdom's Test and Trace system was introduced last year amid the easing of coronavirus lockdown measures that permitted pubs, restaurants, and other businesses to re-open. It was meant to alert people if they had checked-in to a venue where an infected person was known to have been.

    Data collected from millions of people who checked-in to hospitality venues and hairdressers prior to the reintroduction of lockdown was barely used by Test and Trace, according to a report seen by Sky News on Thursday.

    Upon the initial re-opening of the economy last year, the app was introduced to alert anyone who may have come into contact with an infected person. 

    The report adds that the failure of the £22-bn system to track data and alert those at risk meant "thousands of people" were not warned, "potentially leading to the spread of the virus."

    Moreover, when coronavirus data from venues was used, public health officials told pubs and restaurants to contact customers directly – which is a breach of data protection laws. 

    "This is a breach of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and leaves businesses and venues open to potential legal challenges," the report said.

    Not only did Test and Trace fail to use COVID-19 data accumulated by venues but it also failed to use the QR code alert system included in the contact tracing app, which cost £40m to roll out. 

    The document acknowledged that the system was "not fully" utilised despite a national campaign promoting its use. Instead, the report blamed "capacity issues at a local level" for the mishap.

    Local public health officials were assigned to contact venues in order to obtain check-in data or identify locations considered to be most at risk and issue alerts via the app.

    The report said that a "significant administrative burden" was placed on local health protection teams that were already working at full capacity, many of which were also unaware of how to send data to the app.

    Kate Nicholls, CEO of Hospitality UK, called the revelations "incredibly frustrating."

    "Our teams worked really hard to capture that data on the understanding that it was going to be used should there be problems," she said.
    "To hear that it wasn't used, and in fact we had further restrictions without really any clear evidence that there was a problem with hospitality, is a major cause for concern."

    When asked about the potential breach of information protection laws, Nicholls said that businesses were working with "unclear" guidance from the government, which changed the legislation in September, making it compulsory for specific venues to collect customers' data.

    The Labour Party's Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders slammed what he called "a staggering level of dysfunctionality at the heart of the Test and Trace system."

    "It seems thousands of people may have been infected unnecessarily because there wasn't the capacity, joined up-thinking or direction to ensure the systems in place were being used properly," he told Sky News.

    When the app notification system was introduced last October, lawmakers said it would be part of a trajectory towards certain venues having to display official NHS QR codes by law.

    However, the Sky News report later revealed that two weeks after its launch, just one alert about an outbreak in a venue had been issued, despite being used by millions across the country.

    Recent Test and Trace figures show that over 100 million people checked in to venues using the app but analysis by software developer Russ Garrett reveals that just 284 alerts were sent out to 276 venues.

    ​It has been suggested that the Test and Trace app could be used as a new coronavirus "vaccine passport" during the UK's easing of lockdown this year, according to a Times report.

    The UK government has also come under fire for outsourcing the track and trace operation to a private contractor, rather than creating the system in-house under the NHS.

    Serco, a private company that runs coronavirus testing centres across the country, was found to have continually missed its 80 percent target set by the government's scientific advisors for contacts traced, only managing to reach 58.6 percent on average. Despite this, Serco was awarded a £45m contract to add further testing centres.

    Tags:
    data, privatisation, National Health Service (NHS)
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