Fewer than one in five people request a Covid test if they have symptoms, while more than half fail to self-isolate, according to a study.
Only 52 per cent could identify the main coronavirus symptoms of a cough, fever and loss of taste or smell.
Scientists found 18 per cent of those with symptoms said they had requested a test, while only 43 per cent had followed full self-isolation guidelines.
The findings from Public Health England and Kings College London, published in the BMJ, are based on 74,697 responses to online surveys from March 2 last year to January 27 this year. While 79 per cent said they would share details of close contacts with NHS Test and Trace, there was hesitancy around whether the system was reliable and accurate.
Only 52 per cent could identify the main coronavirus symptoms of a cough, fever and loss of taste or smell
The experts said: ‘With such low rates for symptom recognition, testing, and full self-isolation, the effectiveness of the current form of the UK’s test, trace, and isolate system is limited.’
Men, younger people and those with young children were less likely to self-isolate, as were those from more working-class backgrounds, people experiencing greater financial hardship, and those working in key sectors.
Common reasons for not fully self-isolating included to go to the shops or work, for a medical need other than Covid-19, to care for a vulnerable person, to exercise or meet others, or because symptoms were only mild or got better.
The team concluded: ‘Levels of adherence to test, trace, and isolate are low, although some improvement has occurred over time.
‘Practical support and financial reimbursement are likely to improve adherence.
‘Targeting messaging and policies to men, younger age groups, and key workers might also be necessary.’
Scientists found 18 per cent of those with symptoms said they had requested a test, while only 43 per cent had followed full self-isolation guidelines
In March, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee said the impact of NHS Test and Trace is still unclear, despite the UK Government setting aside £37 billion for it over two years.
Its report criticised an over-reliance on consultants, with some paid more than £6,600 a day.
It also questioned a failure to be ready for a surge in demand for tests last September, and NHS Test and Trace not meeting its target to turn around face-to-face tests within 24 hours.
A study from the National Audit Office (NAO) in December also criticised the scheme, saying it had not yet achieved its objectives.
The NAO said it was ‘very important that testing and tracing is able to make a bigger contribution to suppressing the infection than it has to date’.