Wales has more than doubled its weekly count of coronavirus infections, after adding 11,000 cases that were missed off due to an IT ‘cock-up’.
Welsh health chiefs had reported only 9,069 positive tests in the last seven days, suggesting the nation’s outbreak may have been slowing.
But today’s update – designed to reveal exactly when missing cases occurred – saw the total surge by 55 per cent, after computer maintenance launched at the weekend masked the true scale of the resurgence.
Officials said everyone who tested positive for Covid-19 after IT work began on December 11 received their result and was told to self-isolate.
Public Health Wales (PHW) said the ‘very large backlog’ happened because the IT update shut down the ‘flow’ of positive cases identified by Lighthouse Laboratories into its official tally, which then took days to switch back on.
Welsh shadow health minister today blasted the Labour Government for ‘another staggering cock-up’ over the missed cases, and accused them of ‘clearly losing control of the virus in Wales’.
‘This loss of control can only be compounded by today’s news of yet another data mix up,’ he said. ‘And, bearing in mind the concerns highlighted by health professionals, an investigation into this fiasco should be launched.’
Confusion was sparked in Wales yesterday after Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford broke from the UK-wide approach to the festive relaxation of restrictions to write into law that only two households rather than three would be allowed to mix.
He also announced Wales will be plunged into a third lockdown from December 28, with gyms and non-essential shops required to close alongside pubs and restaurants.
Wales currently has the highest weekly infection rate for all of the nations in the UK – 425 per 100,000 people in the week ending December 12. The First Minister — who would have known about the missing infections yesterday when he announced the dramatic break from the UK-wide approach — claimed one in five people are testing positive.
Wales has seen the total number of Covid-19 cases it reported last week double after 11,000 infections were added to figures following an IT update (dark blue)
Conservative Andrew Davies said this was yet another ‘staggering cock-up’ after it was revealed 11,000 coronavirus cases had been missed from the official tally. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford yesterday sparked confusion by announcing Wales would not be following the UK-wide approach over the Christmas period
WALES SET FOR THIRD LOCKDOWN AFTER CHRISTMAS
Wales is bringing in tougher rules on Christmas get-togethers and will enter its third lockdown on December 28 after coronavirus escalated ‘beyond crisis point’.
In a dramatic break with the UK-wide approach, Wales’s Labour-run administration will change the law so just two households can mix rather than three.
First Minister Mark Drakeford also said the nation would go back into lockdown once the five-day Christmas relaxation of rules is over.
Wales currently has the highest infection rate in the UK – 425 per 100,000 people – with eight of the top ten worst-hit areas.
Mr Drakeford said one in five people in Wales is testing positive for the virus, while more than 2,100 are in hospital with symptoms. A record 98 are in intensive care.
Wales only ended a 17-day ‘firebreak’ lockdown on November 8.
Mr Drakeford said new measures were necessary because the situation had become ‘so serious’. He stressed that the ‘sustained rise in coronavirus’ meant the country would go into its third lockdown from Monday December 28.
Non-essential shops and gyms will close earlier – on the evening of Christmas Eve – while all restaurants, pubs and bars will shut from 6pm on Christmas Day. From December 28, tighter rules will restrict household mixing, travel and holiday accommodation.
The dashboard update revealed the most cases were added to the total on December 14, where they surged by 94 per cent after 2,501 positive swabs were included.
The second largest was on December 13, where figures surged 92 per cent after a further 2,229 positive cases were added to the total.
The three most recent days of data were not included in the above, because it can take this long for a swab to be analysed by a laboratory to reveal whether someone has the virus.
Holding the Welsh Government’s feet to the fire over its handling of the pandemic, Mr Davies slammed them for yet another ‘cock-up’ to ‘add to the 13,000 shielding letters sent in error and the data breach in September that saw 18,000-odd positive test results put on a public PHW server’.
‘PHW calls this latest mess “significant under-reporting”; I call that a significant under-statement that belies the true scale of the problem,’ he said.
Plaid Cymru’s health spokesman Rhun ap lorwerth also laid into Welsh ministers, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the blunder ‘raises questions about the way data is analysed’.
‘This is a serious bulk of figures being added to the total today,’ he said.
‘It raises questions again about the interaction between what is controlled in Wales and the Lighthouse Laboratories, and it’s one of those things that again sort of rocks trust in what’s happening and the data that’s presented to us.
‘I must say when the First Minister announced yesterday that from the 28th there would be a tightening of restrictions, and I could see the figures as they were, one wondered why not do things now in terms of stepping up support for areas most heavily affected, but this does put a new slant on it again.’
PHW said they had been aware for days that maintenance to the NHS Welsh Laboratory Information Management System (WLIMS) had led to many positive cases being missed from their daily tally. It is part of the reason that no cases were recorded on Sunday.
A spokesman told MailOnline they had informed the Welsh Government that their case figures from December 11 were ‘provisional’ due to the update.
A press release announcing the maintenance published on December 11 said: ‘There will be a period of reconciliation and validation that will affect our daily reporting figures for several days after this downtime.’
Wales will update its figures at midday to include the 11,000 cases that were previously missed.
Scrambling to explain the missed cases today, Mr Drakeford insisted they were ‘not’ due to a computer problem.
‘This was planned upgrading of the computer system,’ he told BBC Breakfast. ‘None of the data is missing, everybody who had a positive test in Wales was told that last week, everything was uploaded.
‘But the figures do demonstrate just how serious the position here in Wales has become and underlines why we made the decisions yesterday, both in the lead-up to Christmas, during Christmas, and once Christmas is over.’
HOW THE FIGURES CHANGED ONCE WALES ADDED 11,000 COVID-19 CASES
Cases by specimen date yesterday
Cases by specimen date today after 11,000 were added
Non-essential shops and gyms will close earlier – on the evening of Christmas Eve – while all restaurants, pubs and bars will shut from 6pm on Christmas Day. From December 28, tighter rules will restrict household mixing, travel and holiday accommodation
Q&A: HOW WALES MISSED 11,000 COVID CASES FROM ITS OFFICIAL TALLY
WHAT WENT WRONG?
A spokesman for Public Health Wales (PHW) said computer system maintenance meant ‘data flows’ from several sources were switched off.
This included the number of positive cases from Lighthouse Laboratories, which were not added to the official daily tally.
They said they had been aware of the issue for days and had informed ministers.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE AFFECTED?
As many as 11,000 positive cases identified from December 11 are thought to have been missed from the Welsh Covid-19 tally.
But everyone who tested positive over this period was still notified of their results, and told to self-isolate, officials say.
HAVEN’T THEY MADE A SIMILAR MISTAKE BEFORE?
An Excel spreadsheet blunder in October meant Public Health England missed 16,000 coronavirus cases from the UK tally.
Officials admitted this led to a delay in tracing the contacts of people who had tested positive for the virus, allowing many to walk the high street after being exposed to the virus – potentially spreading it.
PHE said at the time that those who had tested positive were informed.
WHAT OTHER COCK-UPS HAVE WALES’ LABOUR-RUN GOVERNMENT MADE?
The Welsh Government was forced to apologise after it sent the shielding letters for 13,000 people most vulnerable to coronavirus to the wrong addresses.
The letters contained information and advice, including on how those who have no one else to support them can get medication and food.
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said he was ‘sorry’ for the mistake at the time, and confirmed letters had been re-sent ‘so people should receive them within the next day or two’.
In August PHW published the details of 18,000 positive coronavirus cases, after its spreadsheet was mistakenly uploaded to a public server.
Most cases gave initials, date of birth, geographical area and sex. And for those in nursing homes or supported housing, the name of their residence was also included.
PHW said it was sparked by ‘individual human error’ and that the risk of identification was low.
This is not the first time PHW has botched its handling of coronavirus data, after it mistakenly published the details of more than 18,000 people who had tested positive for the virus.
And in April it was revealed that Welsh health bosses had sent out 13,000 shielding letters for those most vulnerable to the virus to the wrong addresses.
Public Health England has also bungled its handling of figures, after missing 16,000 cases from the UK’s official tally in October due to an Excel spreadsheet blunder. As many as 30,000 positive tests also had to be removed from the UK total in July, after PHE admitted it had ‘double-counted’ its figures.
Sparking confusion yesterday, Mr Drakeford tightened rules over the Christmas relaxation period and declared a third lockdown to start on December 28.
He said yesterday the decision was triggered by a ‘sustained rise in coronavirus cases’ in Wales.
‘The situation we are facing is extremely serious,’ he said. ‘We must move to alert level four and tighten the restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus and save lives.’
Mr Drakeford had been aware that the official tally did not include all positive coronavirus cases that were identified, a spokesman for PHW said.
Yesterday it was announced that 29 people had died from coronavirus in Wales, a seven per cent drop from last Wednesday when 31 people succumbed to the virus.
A further 530 cases were announced, although total case numbers are expected to rise significantly today when the country’s figures are updated.
The details of more than 18,000 people who had tested positive for coronavirus were published online for 20 hours by PHW on August 30.
Most cases gave initials, date of birth, geographical area and sex. And the details for nursing home residents, or those living in supported housing, also included the name of their place of residence.
PHW said the incident was sparked by ‘individual human error’ when the information was uploaded to a public server that could be viewed by anyone using their site.
They said the risk of identification for the cases was low, but those who lived in a nursing home or supported housing were at higher risk of being identified.
In April it was revealed that the Welsh Government had sent 13,000 letters for people most vulnerable to the virus to the wrong addresses.
The letters from the chief medical officer contained information and advice, including on how those who have no one else to support them can get medication and other essential items like food.
Those eligible for the letters also qualify for priority delivery slots from supermarkets.
The Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said he was ‘sorry’ for the mistake at the time, and confirmed letters had been re-sent ‘so people should receive them within the next day or two’.
The Information Commissioner’s Office said it was looking into the data breach, after the Welsh NHS referred itself to the regulator.
Wales’ last lockdown, a 17-day firebreak, ended on November 8.
The latest figures for the country reveal an additional 2,100 people are in hospital with the virus, and a record 98 are in intensive care.
Matthew Jones, clinical director for emergency care at the Prince of Wales hospital, told ITV that ambulances were queuing outside with patients.
He said: ‘With the ambulances outside like this, there’s a strong argument that we are beyond crisis point – that this isn’t safe.’
String of failures at the soon-to-be-defunct Public Health England
October 5: Excel blunder sees 16,000 positive tests missed off UK tally
Another counting fiasco at Public Health England saw it miss 16,000 cases off the UK tally after it reached the maximum number of cells on an Excel spreadsheet, which simply cut off any cases beyond this.
The technology disaster meant the agency masked the moment the UK’s total cases announced went above 11,000, and gave a false impression that the Rule of Six and 10pm curfew was starting to drive down infections.
PHE is responsible for amassing data on positive cases, deaths and tests in England, and updating the UK’s coronavirus dashboard with accurate figures.
Experts said it is ‘vital’ that all numbers given out in relation to the coronavirus outbreak are accurate and reliable.
August 14: As many as 1.3million coronavirus tests removed from Government tally after ‘overcounting’
Officials were forced to admit that they had overcounted coronavirus tests in August, dropping 1.3million from their daily total.
They admitted the adjustment was due to ‘more accurate data collection’ with reporting tests for pillar two, and a ‘subsequent recalibration’ of data that was reported between March 29 and August 11.
July 3: Counting problem see 30,000 positive cases of coronavirus double-counted in total figures
Public Health England double-counted 30,000 positive tests results in its statistics, it was revealed in July.
The fiasco was only identified when the agency changed its methodology for reporting cases, after it had identified duplicates between pillar one – tests in hospitals and medical facilities – and pillar two – for those carried out in the community.
Experts said the way different organisations had collected data had caused ‘widespread confusion’, and the revelation meant that figures published at press conferences had been consistently wrong.