• The UK is rushing to track down 204 air passengers after a batch of positive virus tests went unreported by the government’s tracing team.
  • Eight teens returning to London from Crete, Greece, on budget airline Wizz Air on August 25 tested positive last week. 
  • The UK’s test-and-trace system is supposed to alert people who have been in contact with those infected, but it did not.
  • Wizz Air also told Business Insider it was “not made aware that eight passengers who travelled on the 8168 flight from Heraklion to London-Luton on 25 August had since tested positive for COVID-19.”
  • The UK Department of Health and Social Care told Business Insider: “We are aware of a number of cases on this flight and action has been taken to advise those that need to self-isolate to do so.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The UK is rushing to track down 204 air passengers after eight COVID-19 infections on their flight went unreported by health authorities for days.

The eight teenagers, who returned to London Luton Airport on a Wizz Air flight from the island of Crete, Greece, on August 25, tested positive upon arrival, The Guardian reported.

Wizz Air said it only became aware that a number of its passengers had tested positive when approached by the newspaper for comment days later.

The UK government’s test-and-trace system is intended to identify people who have come into contact with those that test positive for COVID-19, and urge them to isolate or get tested.

Wizzair aircraft with a shipment of medical and protective gear from China, which will be used to help fight the spread of the coronavirus, arrives at Budapest Airport, Hungary, April 4, 2020. KKM/Handout via REUTERS

A Wizz Air plane with shipments of medical and protective gear from China arrives at Budapest Airport in 2020.

Reuters


But Wizz Air said it received no requests for the contact details of any of the 204 passengers from the government. 

One of the teens who tested positive for the coronavirus, 18-year-old Ben Pearce, told The Guardian he was not asked for his flight details by the contact tracers that called him after his test.

“Even though I’ve filled out my details on three separate phone calls, they always seem to say I’ve got nothing on my file,” he told the newspaper.

In a statement, Wizz Air told Business Insider: “Wizz Air was not made aware that eight passengers who travelled on the 8168 flight from Heraklion to London-Luton on 25 August had since tested positive for COVID-19.”

“The airline has now informed the relevant health authorities in England who are responsible for contacting and advising the 204 other passengers.” 

The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care told Business Insider: “We are aware of a number of cases on this flight and action has been taken to advise those that need to self-isolate to do so.”

UK contact tracing: from bad to worse

The UK’s attempt to roll out a test-and-trace system has been beset with shortcomings and met with widespread criticism. 

The UK hired 18,000 people to work on the scheme in June, but fired 6,000 of them in August following reports that contractors spent weeks watching Netflix, barbecuing, and doing quizzes.

The UK also developed and soft-launched a contact-tracing app in May, but it was scrapped after technical issues.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced on May 20 that a “world-beating” test-and-trace system would be rolled out on June 1.

In the statement to Business Insider, the Department of Health and Social Care said: “NHS Test and Trace is working — hundreds of thousands people are being tested every day and to make sure we stay in control of this virus, we are targeting our testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak as well as prioritizing at-risk groups.”

“There is a high demand for tests, but more appointments and home testing kits are available every day and we are increasing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.”

The UK’s largest airlines have pressed Johnson to impose mandatory COVID-19 tests at airports so that imported virus cases can be isolates as soon as possible.

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