Jeane Freeman says contract tracing ‘on track’ as trial launches

HEALTH Secretary Jeane Freeman has insisted Scotland will meet its tracing targets as the trial of a new system launches today.

At the Scottish Government’s Sunday briefing, Freeman was pressed for answers on why the 2000 tracers pledged by ministers are not yet in place and how many people who may have been in contact with an infected person have been found by authorities.

Around 8000 people have applied, but none have been hired so far.

She also faced further questions over the SNP administration’s handling of the February Nike conference in Edinburgh at which the first cases are understood to have arisen.

Two companies – a kilt hire shop and digital marketing firm – have now said their staff fell ill after coming into close contact with Nike delegates. The companies say they were not warned about the possibility of infection and contract tracing did not reach their teams.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already denied claims of a cover-up as “complete and utter nonsense” following a BBC documentary on the matter.

READ MORE: Coronavirus spread in Scotland by Nike employees before first case

Yesterday Freeman said all standard protocols had been followed and there had been no “failure in the approach” of health authorities, adding: “If we’re not told all the contacts someone has had, we cannot trace.

“We can only base it on what the trigger case tells us – ‘here’s where I’ve been and who I’ve been in contact with’.”

She explained: “Contact tracing sits on the information given by the individual who is the trigger case. They are asked where they’ve been and who they’ve been in contact with, and that’s someone within 15 minutes or more and within a distance of two metres.”

READ MORE: New care home coronavirus plans to give ‘clarity and consistency’

National clinical director Jason Leitch said the conference delegate from the first case had been “interviewed by experienced contact tracers”, with work conducted in “a number of countries”.

He said infection control measures had since changed, stating: “This was when we were in the delay phase when there were very few cases in the country or across the UK.

“It was absolutely the right thing to do at that point.”

The comments came after Freeman announced a two-week trial of a new coronavirus tracing system in three health board areas – NHS Fife, Lanarkshire and Highland – will start from today.

The system is said to build on existing technology already in place and it is hoped that it will lead to faster results as the Scottish Government pursues its “test, trace, isolate and support” approach to reduce transmission rates and ease lockdown measures.

A total of 2103 patients with positive Covid-19 tests have now died, according to figures released yesterday afternoon.

It is hoped that the tracing system will be rolled out to all areas by the end of the month before further “enhancements” in June.

Freeman said more than 600 staff from within the NHS are in place to carry out initial tracing work and insisted the 2000-head team goal will be met. However, Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw has called the lack of any progress towards that figure “deeply concerning”.

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