MATT Hancock must triple the size of his contact tracing force for it to succeed in breaking Britain out of lockdown, Tory grandees last night warned.
The Health Secretary was told that the 18,000 he wants to recruit for his ‘track and trace’ programme could be too small to have real effect for weeks.
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Instead he should aim for a 50,000-strong army, and tap into the vast NHS volunteer force of 750,000 to man it.
Speaking out, ex-Cabinet minister David Davis said the UK’s ambition is tiny in comparison to the vast army of up to 300,000 contact tracers that the United States plans to train up.
Commons Health Committee chair Jeremy Hunt echoed David Davis’s call, insisting “the more the merrier”.
Finding all the people that new virus sufferers have recently been in contact with and immediately isolating them too has proved hugely successful in beating the epidemic in countries such as South Korea and Germany.
The government now sees track and trace as the only way to allow a partial return to normal life before a vaccine is developed next year.
But as The Sun revealed this week, ministers have been told that the current force of tracers it is recruiting will only be effective when the total number of sufferers reduces to 100,000.
It is estimated to be at more than 300,000 still yesterday.
Mr Davis told The Sun: “I cannot understand wherever the Department of Health have got the number of 18,000 from.
“It could be 50,000. The lesson in this crisis so far is having too many of everything is better than having too few.”
He added: “Why can’t we use some of the 750,000 who have volunteered to hep the NHS?
“It should be very easy to get 50,000 volunteers to help with the practical tasks involved in the track and trace procedure, or 100,000 if people are willing to do it part time.”
Former Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt added: “Matt is instituting a step change in ambition, but the more the merrier in my view.
“I also think we should move to contact tracing straight away. Even if you can’t do it comprehensively, anything helps.”
Public Health England has come under bitter criticism for halting contact tracing in the community in mid-March.
Even then, the health quango only had a standing force of 290 professional contact tracers.
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Under Mr Hancock’s plan, his 18,000 new recruits – many of them professional environmental health practicioners – will be ready to begin work in mid-May.
While 15,000 of them will carry out telephone work, 3,000 will be deployed in the field wearing PPE to talk to sufferers face to face.
No10 said yesterday: “Recruitment is under way and they are making progress in getting the team in place”.
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