A limitation in Microsoft Excel has caused almost 16,000 coronavirus cases to go unreported between 25th September and 2nd October.
Reports have suggested that a spreadsheet used to aggregate positive Covid-19 test results sent from labs reached its maximum capacity, preventing the automated process from adding new names.
In a statement, Public Health England (PHE) Interim Chief Executive Michael Brodie said: “A technical issue was identified overnight on Friday 2 October in the data load process that transfers Covid-19 positive lab results into reporting dashboards.
“After rapid investigation, we have identified that 15,841 cases between 25 September and 2 October were not included in the reported daily Covid-19 cases. The majority of these cases occurred in most recent days.”
The results show that 30th September’s official daily tally of 7,109 positive results should have been 3,049 higher. This also means that the number of official cases rose on 1st October by 4,133 and on 2nd October by 4,786.
The missing data has since been added to the daily totals for the 3rd of October and the 4th of October, which is responsible for pushing them to almost 13,000 and 23,000, respectively. This compares to lockdown peaks of over 6,000.
According to the BBC, a large number of unreported cases came from the north-west of England.
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The unreported data will hamper attempts to stem the recent growth in daily new coronavirus cases. People who tested positive in the unreported tests were informed of their diagnosis. However, people came into close contact with the sufferers were not informed, delaying contact tracing operations.
PHE has since said that these cases were all passed on to tracers by 01:00 on 3rd October. Test and Trace and PHE Joint Medical Advisor Susan Hopkins, said: “This issue did not affect people receiving their Covid-19 test results and all people who tested positive have received their Covid-19 test result in the normal way. It also does not impact the basis on which decisions about local action were taken last week.”
In order to prevent a repeat of the technical error, the Excel file has been split into multiple smaller files.