Dido Harding’s test and trace system has swallowed up “unimaginable” amounts of taxpayers’ money with no evidence of any measurable difference on the progress of the coronavirus pandemic, a scathing report by a Westminster spending watchdog has found.

The report said NHS test and trace must “wean itself off” its reliance on private-sector consultants, after figures showed it was still employing around 2,500 in early February on an estimated daily rate of £1,100 a head – with the highest-paid individual costing taxpayers £6,624 a day.

It comes as the government is being urged to reconsider its coronavirus vaccine allocation strategy, with doctors, academics and public health campaigners calling for the targeted inoculation of vulnerable ethnic minority groups in the second phase of Britain’s rollout.

Experts said the government’s strategy disregards the unequal impacts of the pandemic on minority groups, who have suffered from some of the highest Covid mortality rates, and risks exacerbating health disparities within these communities.

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1615366622Relaxing restrictions too quickly could lead to ‘tens of thousands of hospitalisations’, Sage member says

Opening schools and relaxing lockdown restrictions are “very big steps” and “we don’t really understand what impact they will have on transmission”, a Sage member has said.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London told Times Radio there are “very sizeable numbers of people” who are “vulnerable to ending up in hospital and dying”.

He added that despite the vaccine rollout, it is still possible there will be “tens of thousands of hospitalisations and very many deaths if we relax too quickly”.

Clea Skopeliti10 March 2021 08:57

1615365549Russia reports 9,079 cases, 466 deaths

Russia has added a further 9,079 Covid-19 cases to its tally, including 1,116 in Moscow, taking the national infection total to 4,351,553 since the pandemic began. This compares with 10,416 a week ago.

The government coronavirus taskforce said that 466 people had died in past 24 hours, pushing its death toll to 90,275 – a rise from 443 last Wednesday.

Clea Skopeliti10 March 2021 08:39

1615364760Bulgaria reports highest daily number of cases in three months

Bulgaria has reported 3,502 new Covid-19 cases – its highest daily figure in three months, while the number of fatalities rose to 132, government data showed.

Regional health authorities may shut schools, gyms, non-essential retail and hospitality if they consider it necessary to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Non-urgent operations in hospitals have already been cancelled.

Clea Skopeliti10 March 2021 08:26

1615364386Transport secretary defends Test and Trace after watchdog fails to find proof it cut infections

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has said the pandemic would have been “one heck of a lot worse” without Test and Trace, in the wake of a report which found “no clear evidence” it had cut infection levels.

Mr Shapps told Sky News: “It certainly hasn’t been cheap fighting coronavirus but it has absolutely been necessary.

“9.1 million people have been contacted by Test and Trace. These are people who otherwise would be wandering round often unaware that they had coronavirus and spreading it around further.

“Whatever the coronavirus experience we have had as a nation, good or bad, it would have been one heck of a lot worse if we didn’t have a Test and Trace system which has contacted so many people and prevented the disease spreading further.”

Clea Skopeliti10 March 2021 08:19

1615363245Transport secretary ‘hopeful’ summer holidays abroad will be possible

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has said he is “hopeful” that people will be able to travel abroad this summer but warned there were no “cast iron guarantees”.

Mr Shapps said that under the road map out of lockdown in England, the earliest people would be able to travel overseas was 17 May and he urged caution when it came to booking.

“We know you won’t be able to travel until 17 May. I would say that it makes sense to see how the course of the pandemic unlock proceeds,” he told Times Radio.

“I am hopeful but, as with everything to do with this virus, you can’t say for certain.

“There are a lot of issues that we need to work around but I am working with international partners, both governments and organisations, to try to make it happen. We can’t provide cast iron guarantees on it.”

Clea Skopeliti10 March 2021 08:00

1615362739

Hello and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Clea Skopeliti10 March 2021 07:52



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