It was in May that Boris Johnson promised the UK would have a “world-beating” test-and-trace operation in place within weeks.
“Our test-and-trace system is as good as, or better than, any other system anywhere in the world,” he doubled down in July.
But nearly half a year after the system was established, thousands of Covid-19 cases still go undetected each week, leaving severe lockdown restrictions as the only option to prevent hospitals across the country from collapsing.
The Guardian has analysed the latest figures on the performance of test and trace to show how people at risk of spreading the virus go missing at every step of the process.
Overall, the figures indicate that less than one in four contacts of those who are infected are reached, and just four in ten contacts of those who test positive for the virus.
This is despite the fact that the test and trace budget has now risen to a staggering £22bn, more than the combined funding for all police and fire services in the UK.
Health experts are calling for a radical reform of test and trace, large parts of which have been outsourced to private sector firms Serco and Sitel.
The appointment of Tory peer Dido Harding as the head of the scheme has also provoked fierce criticism. A legal challenge, mounted last week by campaign groups the Good Law Project and Runnymede Trust, alleges that it was personal connections rather than a formal application process that landed her the position.
“The wife of a Conservative MP and friend of former prime minister David Cameron, Dido Harding didn’t pip other candidates to the post at the interview. There weren’t any other candidates. She was just handed the job,” the campaigners’ crowdfunding appeal read.
Harding is currently self-isolating after being warned that she had come into close proximity with an infected person by the NHS test-and-trace smartphone app.