The Latest: England blames computer glitch for 16,000 ‘lost’ virus cases

Home / The Latest: England blames computer glitch for 16,000 ‘lost’ virus cases

LONDON — An epic fail of a simple computer program “lost” nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases in England for more than a week, British public health officials said.

Everyone who tested positive was informed. But the cases were left out of the daily totals between Sept. 25 and Friday and ignored by contact tracers during that time. Given the average number of in-person contacts, that means as many as 50,000 people may have been exposed without being called about it.

By Monday morning, only half of the 16,000 who tested positive had gotten a contact tracing call. The other half “should be contacted as soon as possible,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who was excoriated in the House of Commons by lawmakers.

Commuters at London’s Waterloo Station on Sept. 24 after Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a range of new restrictions to combat the rise in coronavirus cases in England. After a recent gaff, only half of the 16,000 who tested positive had gotten a contact tracing call as of Monday. The other half “should be contacted as soon as possible,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Victoria Jones/PA via AP

The accounting error – blamed on operators entering data in an Excel spreadsheet program – was another serious stumble for the British government, at a crucial moment, when it is daily trying to decide where to tighten regional restrictions to slow a second wave of the virus.

After the error was spotted and the lost cases accounted for, the government’s report of new daily infections nearly doubled – from 12,872 on Saturday to 22,961 on Sunday – sparking renewed angst among officials in London and England’s north, where most of the new cases were centered.

Michael Brodie, the interim head of Public Health England, said the issue was identified late Friday in the computer process that communicates positive results from labs to the country’s reporting dashboards. Some data files containing positive results had exceeded the maximum file size, he said, according to the BBC.

Read the full story here.

New Hampshire allocates $12 million for performance, sports venues

New Hampshire theaters, concert halls and other live performance venues can now apply for as much as $1.5 million each from the state’s federal virus relief aid.

The state is allocating $12 million of its $1.25 billion for a new relief program for businesses that host live theatrical presentations, music, sporting or racing events that are seated, ticketed and open to the public. The program is open to both for-profit and nonprofit facilities, and the application process began Monday.

While some venues have been able to remain open with fewer shows and limited capacity during the pandemic, many shows and events have been postponed or canceled.

“Live performance venues are the lifeblood of many communities and serve as an economic engine that drives tourism to help sustain main street businesses, restaurants, and hotels,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement. “To lose these venues would be an economic blow that would have a widespread and profoundly negative ripple effect felt across these communities for many years to come.”

Ten percent of world’s people may have been infected with virus, WHO reports

GENEVA — The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization said Monday the agency’s “best estimates” indicate roughly 1 in 10 people worldwide may have been infected by the coronavirus — more than 20 times the number of confirmed cases — and warned of a difficult period ahead.

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WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday said, “The pandemic underlines the fundamental importance of investing in public health and primary health care.” Christopher Black/WHO via Associated Press

Dr. Michael Ryan, speaking to a special session of the WHO’s 34-member executive board focusing on COVID-19, said the figures vary from urban to rural areas, and between different groups, but that ultimately it means “the vast majority of the world remains at risk.” He said the pandemic would continue to evolve, but that tools exist to suppress transmission and save lives.

“Many deaths have been averted and many more lives can be protected,” Ryan said. He was flanked by his boss, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who minutes earlier led a moment of silence to honor victims, as well as a round of applause for the health workers who have strived to save them.

Ryan said southeast Asia faced a surge in cases, Europe and the eastern Mediterranean were seeing an increase, while the situations in Africa and the Western Pacific were “rather more positive.” Overall, though, he said the world was “heading into a difficult period.”

“The disease continues to spread. It is on the rise in many parts of the world,” Ryan told attendees from governments who make up the executive board and provide much of the WHO’s funding. “Our current best estimates tell us that about 10 percent of the global population may have been infected by this virus.”

The estimate — which would amount to more than 760 million people based on a current world population of about 7.6 billion — far outstrips the number of confirmed cases as tallied by both the WHO and Johns Hopkins University, now more than 35 million worldwide. Experts have long said that the number of confirmed cases greatly undershoots the true figure.

Ryan did not elaborate on the estimate. Dr. Margaret Harris, a WHO spokeswoman, said it was based on an average of antibody studies conducted around the world. She said the estimated 90 percent of people remaining without infection means the virus has “opportunity” to spread further “if we don’t take action to stop it” such as by contact-tracing and tracking of cases by health officials.

Tedros, during his remarks, said: “What we have learned in every region of the world is that with strong leadership, clear and comprehensive strategies, consistent communication, and engaged, empowered and enabled population, it’s never too late … Every situation can be turned around — and hard-won gains can be easily lost.”

“The pandemic underlines the fundamental importance of investing in public health and primary health care,” said Tedros, wearing a stylish black, red and yellow mask. Tedros had not worn a mask during scores of COVID-19 press conferences he led at WHO headquarters this year.

Europe tightens restrictions as leaders wage long virus fight

Europe is tightening restrictions to regain control of resurgent coronavirus infections, with Paris closing bars and new curbs likely on the way in Italy and Ireland.

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Lines change during matches of the French Open tennis tournament in Paris, France, on Friday. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on Monday will announce new restrictions to contain the spread after a surge in cases in the capital and its suburbs. Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press

The continent is struggling to control the latest outbreak as opposition to limits on movement mounts and leaders resist the stringent lockdowns that hammered economies in the second quarter. Instead, the approach is on a shifting array of measures, which risks being similarly disruptive.

“Authorities have an extremely difficult job at the moment,” Martin Hirsch, head of Paris hospitals, said on France Info. “If we go too far we are accused of killing freedom or the economy, and if we don’t go far enough, it’s homicide.”

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on Monday will announce new restrictions to contain the spread after a surge in cases in the capital and its suburbs.

Authorities are planning to entirely shut down bars and impose tighter distancing rules on restaurants as the region is declared on maximum alert, according to Agence France Presse. In Marseille, however, restaurants will be permitted to reopen after a week of closure.

France’s virus cases increased the most in Europe over the past two months and monthly virus-related deaths tripled in September. The country reported a record number of laboratory-confirmed new cases on Saturday.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel will chair a special cabinet meeting on the pandemic response in Berlin. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said “it will take time” to return to pre-coronavirus levels of activity, even if more effective therapies and a vaccine are made available.

“We will be dealing with this ‘new normality’ and with the virus into next year,” Scholz said in an interview with ARD public television late Sunday. “It’s not gone, and it’s a great danger for everyone around the world.”

In Hungary, the government over the weekend announced what it called an unprecedented increase in doctors’ wages. Prime Minister Viktor Orban predicted that the “seven-eight months ahead will require extraordinary efforts” from medical professionals, according to a Facebook video.

Amid a surge in cases in recent weeks, Ireland’s national health authorities recommended the country move to a level 5 lockdown. That’s the highest level of shutdown, with most stores closed, household visits banned and limits placed on how far people can leave their homes. Most of the country is currently at level 2, with Dublin at Level 3.

Biden campaign says he has again tested negative for the virus

Joe Biden’s campaign says the Democratic presidential nominee tested negative for coronavirus Sunday.

The results come five days after Biden spent more than 90 minutes on the debate stage with President Trump. The president was diagnosed with COVID-19 days after the debate, and he remains hospitalized.

Biden had two negative tests on Friday, as well.

Biden is scheduled to travel Monday to Florida. His campaign said it will continue to observe public health guidelines on masks, social distancing and crowd sizes.

AG Barr will self-quarantine out of caution

Attorney General William Barr will self-quarantine out of caution after President Trump and several other lawmakers and aides tested positive for the coronavirus.

Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said Sunday that Barr has had four COVID-19 tests since Friday, and all have come back negative. She says he will self-quarantine for several days out of an abundance of caution.

Barr attended one meeting at Justice Department headquarters on Friday and stayed home during the weekend, except to be tested. He plans to remain home for several days.

Barr attended the White House event for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett last weekend and was seen on video having a conversation with former Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, who has tested positive for coronavirus. Neither was wearing a mask.


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