Willie Rennie has called for an overhaul of the country’s Test and Protect system after more than 300 people waited almost a week to be interviewed following a positive result.
Figures released to the Scottish Liberal Democrats under freedom of information laws show that between August 9 and November 15, 326 people waited more than six days to be contacted by the system.
Of the 2385 people interviewed in that time, 134 waited between 144 and 168 hours, while 192 waited more than a week.
Contact tracers interview positive cases to ascertain anyone they may have been in recent contact with, so they can be alerted to self-isolate.
Rennie urged the Scottish Government to increase capacity in the system following the discovery of a new, more infectious Covid-19 strain in the UK.
He claimed Test and Protect was not adequately resourced from its inception.
He said: “Every minute counts when tracking down this virus. Ministers gave the impression that their system was superior, had all the staff it needed and could withstand whatever the virus threw at it. The First Minister repeatedly told me that Test and Protect was working well.
“In reality, we didn’t have enough tracers to be able to go and hunt down the virus during the summer lull, or enough tracers to follow up leads when it took off again the autumn.
“The operation needed to be much bigger from the get-go.
“Week after week I asked about preparing Test and Protect, the quarantine traveller spot-check target that was missed for four months, and mass testing students to ensure their safe arrival at university.
“We know these events furthered the spread of the virus, contributing to the difficult position we are all in this Christmas.
“The Scottish Government’s new year resolution must be to ensure that Test and Protect always has enough staff and expertise ready to deal with the massive challenge from this new strain of the virus.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are continually reviewing our approach to contact tracing, and adapt and improve the system as issues are identified.
“The most recent preliminary data available, for the week 14-20 December, shows 97.9% of all positive cases had their contact tracing completed within 72 hours, with 93.2% completed within 48 hours.
“Our approach uses established, tried and tested contact tracing techniques.
“These are delivered by health protection professionals in teams within local NHS Boards with support provided by the National Contact Tracing Centre.
“The system will prioritise contacting individuals with a positive test as soon as possible, but it relies on people answering their phone. Some interviews may take longer to complete than others, for various reasons such as invalid telephone numbers and email addresses.
“If an individual has any questions after being asked to self-isolate after identification as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, they can contact the National Contact Tracing Centre on 0800 030 8012 for further advice.”
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