UK says COVID-19 'Test and Trace' system cost to rise to 22 billion pounds

FILE PHOTO: A sign is pictured as people queue outside a test centre, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Southend-on-sea, Britain September 17, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government announced a 7-billion-pound increase in funding for its COVID-19 testing and contact tracing system on Monday, as part of an expanded programme of mass testing and plans to test frontline staff more regularly.

The ‘Test and Trace’ system has been heavily criticised after a series of high-profile failures since its launch earlier this year, and ministers concede it has not performed as well as they had hoped.

Nevertheless, the government is banking on enhanced testing programmes as an important prong of its strategy to ease the economic burden of lockdowns and restrictions that have been implemented to control the spread of the virus.

“This strategy is backed by an additional 7 billion pounds for NHS (National Health Service) Test and Trace to increase testing and continue to improve contact tracing, taking the overall funding provided for Test and Trace this financial year to 22 billion pounds,” the government said in its COVID-19 winter plan, published on Monday.

The government wants to roll-out rapid testing to frontline healthcare, social care and other high risk staff, and expand pilot programmes which have sought to test large numbers of people in a single area to identify asymptomatic cases.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out new measures on Monday to replace a COVID-19 lockdown in England from Dec. 2, reinforcing a previous regional approach to try to reopen businesses where infection rates are lower.

Reporting by William James, editing by Estelle Shirbon and Timothy Heritage