The Guardian view on pandemic failures: this data loss is symptomatic | Editorial

The statistical glitch that led to 16,000 positive tests not being reported is further proof that ministers have lost control

Much remains to be revealed about the precise circumstances in which 15,841 positive Covid-19 test results were temporarily lost. The technical explanation being reported on Monday – that an Excel file maximum was reached, leading to excess data being dropped between a lab and Public Health England – is not the whole story. As well as what caused the error, there is much to learn about its effects. This includes the locations of around 48,000 close contacts of the infected people, who were not contacted by the test-and-trace system because it did not have their details. On Monday the health secretary, Matt Hancock, told the House of Commons that 49% of those tested had still not been reached by contact tracers.

How many people will be infected by the virus who might otherwise have escaped it, and how ill they will become as a result, remains to be seen. As the backlog is cleared, some people will surely be angry to learn that they were not warned of the risk to themselves, and others, in a timely way. If the affected areas turn out to be among those already facing the highest rates of illness and most severe pandemic-linked economic problems, as is widely expected, then council, school and business leaders will be justifiably furious.

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