Matt Hancock is not having a great pandemic. Care Home deaths have skyrocketed, the test and trace app was delayed, and now this. Some 16,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases went unreported in late September and early October, following what has been described as a glitch. Given the scale of the crisis, one must wonder how did this happen?
It appears that the error was caused by some Microsoft Excel data files exceeding the maximum size after they were sent from NHS Test and Trace to Public Health England. The reason this happened was that Public Health England saved their files in an old format-XLS- consequently what happened was that each template could only handle 65,000 rows of data rather than the 1 million plus rows that Excel is actually capable of. Since each test result created several rows of data, this practically meant each template was limited to about 1400 cases. When that total was reached, further cases were simply left off. This meant that 15,841 cases between 25th September and 2nd October were left out of the UK daily case figures.
Public Health England has said that the error itself was discovered overnight on Friday and has been fixed, and that outstanding cases had been passed onto tracers by early Saturday morning. Yet, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary has told MPs that the incident as a whole had not yet been resolved, with only 51% of those whose positive results were caught in the glitch now reached by contact tracers.
Hancock insisted that this incident had not substantially changed the government’s assessment of the pandemic, and it hadn’t changed its mind on which decisions about local action were taken. He also insisted that the outbreak control in care homes, schools and hospitals had not been directly affected as they did not rely on the data in question.
However, as this is just one of the many errors in handling the pandemic that has occurred under Hancock’s watch, he cannot be surprised that Labour are calling for his resignation. Angela Rayner, a prominent Labour politician told Mr Hancock during a debate in the Commons that he should be ‘completely embarrassed’ by the delay in reporting of the infections, and that he had failed to live up to the promise of a world beating test and trace system.
One cannot fault Angela Rayner for her comments and for the general sense of frustration with Hancock that she so adequately captured. Hancock has had months to get things right, and yet at almost every turn he has looked like a bumbling buffoon desperately trying to cover his own back instead of working for the good of the country.
This is one more nail in his coffin, and if another tragedy happens, one must hope that Boris Johnson would be sensible enough to remove the most incompetent health secretary we’ve had in years. If not, it could spell a dire future for the Conservatives.