British Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks during a statement on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the House of Commons Chamber, in London, Britain, October 5, 2020. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS.


The British government is investigating why almost 16,000 new COVID-19 cases went unreported in recent days due to a technical error. U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock placed the blame on the “automated transfer of files.” Data on 15,841 cases tracked between Sept. 25 and Oct. 2 were likely missed due to file size limitations in Excel. More than 50,000 people may have been missed by contact tracers due to the error.

Those who tested positive received their results, however their names were not entered into the contact-tracing system. Because of this, tens of thousands around the country remain uninformed about possible exposure to the virus. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the cases’ data was “truncated” and “lost” but noted tracers were working to connect with contacts. A Public Health England (PHE) official said that the outstanding cases were prioritized for contact tracing after being uploaded to the nationwide contact tracing system on Saturday. Hancock admitted Monday that only half of the cases had been reached for contacts. 

Joint Medical director Dr. Susan Hopkins clarified that there was not a delay in people receiving test results, but that delays were “in reporting to the dashboard and to the public” and in beginning contact tracing. When speaking to the House of Commons, Hancock declined to discuss details of the error, placing blame on PHE’s “legacy system.” PHE confirmed the issue has since been resolved and that changes were made to prevent issues in the future.

Labour party member and Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth called the error “shambolic” and added, “people across the country will be understandably alarmed.”

Coronavirus: Almost 8,000 missed COVID-19 cases still haven’t had their contacts traced” – Sky News / Source: DHSC, Public Health England


Excel Error Believed to Have Caused UK to Lose 15,841 Covid-19 Tests – Gizmodo – 10/5/2020
On Sunday, one of the United Kingdom’s public health agencies announced that 15,841 covid-19 cases had gone unreported due to a “technical issue” that occurred during “the data load process.” As citizens demand answers, it’s looking increasingly likely that a simple error in Microsoft Excel is to blame for the missing data.

Test error ‘should never have happened’ – Hancock – BBC News – 10/5/2020
The health secretary has said a glitch that saw nearly 16,000 Covid-19 cases go unreported in England “has not substantially changed” the government’s assessment of the epidemic. He said a technical issue as results were processed “should never have happened” and is being investigated. […] Those who tested positive were informed – but their close contacts were not. Experts advise that ideally contacts should be tracked down within 48 hours.

Botched Excel import may have caused loss of 15,841 UK COVID-19 cases – Ars Technica – 10/5/2020
Public Health England admitted on Sunday that the agency has under-reported COVID-19 infections by 15,841 cases in recent days due to a “technical issue.” The missing positive tests were conducted between September 25 and October 2 and have since been added to national statistics, the agency said. PHE didn’t explain the nature of the technical issue, but a number of British news sources have pointed the finger at Microsoft Excel.

Opinion: Thousands of Covid tests missing in space. Is this what the PM meant by a moonshot? – The Independent – 10/5/2020
The government website strikes a reassuring note: the NHS Test and Trace service ensures that anyone who develops symptoms of coronavirus can be tested quickly to find out if they have the virus, and help to trace close recent contacts of anyone who tests positive to notify them that they must self-isolate at home. This rhetoric is far removed from the reality. […] The government are running out of scapegoats for the latest incompetence as we discover that, far from infections levelling out, results were somehow being lost in space. Perhaps this is what the prime minister meant by a moonshot? 


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