IT maintenance blamed for missing COVID-19 case numbers in Wales

Past “significant under-reporting” will see case numbers, reported today, surge.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Wales is braced for a sudden surge in reported COVID-19 case numbers to account for under-reporting this month caused by IT issues. 

As reported by the BBC, between 9 and 15 December, up to an additional 11,000 positive and recorded cases of COVID-19 infection were not added to the Public Health Wales (PHW) dashboard, which reports official case numbers. 

As a result, these figures will be added to the dashboard today and will reveal that the week's numbers -- standing at 11,911 -- will increase to over 20,000 over the 9 - 15 December time period.  

PHW did warn of "planned maintenance" on the NHS Welsh Laboratory Information Management System (WLIMS) on December 11. The agency said "essential service upgrades" were necessary and there would be no release of daily figures on December 13, but such a backlog may not have been anticipated. 

In a notice published on the PHW dashboard, the organization said, "we are aware of significant under-reporting of lighthouse laboratory testing," and new reports are expected to include a "very large backlog of samples [..] between 9 and 15 December."

"Across Wales, we will be reporting in the region of 11,000 new positive cases," PHW said. "Full breakdown by local regions are currently being analyzed."

See also: COVID data tracking: Best dashboards and other tools parsing cases, hospitalizations, and more

A PHW spokeswoman told the publication that it is only the case numbers that were impacted, and not test-and-trace contacts, the system used across the UK to contact individuals that have come into close contact with a positive case.

"This has not affected individuals receiving their results, and anyone who tests positive will be contacted by their local authority's Test, Trace, Protect team in the usual way," the spokeswoman said. 

However, with Christmas on the way, confusion over guidance, and a looming lockdown for Wales planned from 28 December, this assurance may not be enough, given the unfortunate timing of the IT issue. 

This is not the first time the UK has either blamed or misused technology to record coronavirus caseloads. 

In October, close to 16,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the UK were lost as Public Health England decided to rely on Microsoft Excel files in databases used to collate testing labs results. 

As developers opted for the legacy .XLS format rather than .XLSX, imports were limited to roughly 65,000 data rows -- rather than one million supported by the newer format -- and so cases were lost in transfers. 

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