NHS Test and Trace workers
File photo: NHS Test and Trace workers are seen at a test station in Richmond-Upon-Thames, Britain. Image Credit: REUTERS

London: England's $32 billion test and trace system has not made a clear impact on the COVID-19 pandemic, the British parliament's Public Accounts Committee said on Wednesday, decrying the "unimaginable" costs of the programme.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year promised a world beating test and trace system as part of the route out of the pandemic. But it has taken the successful development and deployment of vaccines to let the government plot a definitive route back to normality.

"Despite the unimaginable resources thrown at this project, Test and Trace cannot point to a measurable difference to the progress of the pandemic," chair of the committee, opposition Labour party lawmaker Meg Hillier, said.

"The promise on which this huge expense was justified - avoiding another lockdown " has been broken, twice." The Public Accounts Committee said that test and trace had cost 23 billion pounds ($32 billion) so far but had not achieved a key goal of avoiding a cycle of national lockdowns.

The system has been allocated 37 billion pounds in total to cover two years, a budget which includes the cost of testing people with symptoms and regular testing in schools, care homes and some work places.

Dido Harding, who runs the system, said that the team had carried out over 83 million coronavirus tests, more than any other comparable European country, and that testing still had a role to play in lifting lockdown.

"Test and trace is essential in our fight against COVID-19 and regular testing is a vital tool to stop transmission as we cautiously ease restrictions," she said, adding that contact tracing made "a real impact in breaking chains of transmission".

The committee's report said that test and trace was overly reliant on expensive contractors. Consultants working on the system cost 1,000 pounds a day.

Last year, scientific advisers said test and trace was not significantly reducing the spread of the coronavirus. England then entered a second lockdown in the autumn.

British minister Grant Shapps said on Wednesday the system had been set up from scratch, it was playing a critical role in helping stop the spread of new variants and the pandemic would have been "one heck of a lot worse" without it.