Formal contact tracing has been reduced due to the widespread outbreak of Covid-19 in the island, according to the Health Minister.

Mr Ashford says there is now a reduced benefit to the practice.

He described the move as the next ’step forward’ in the government’s strategy for living with coronavirus in the community.

Until now, the contact tracing team would identify, list and monitor contacts from 48 hours prior to onset of symptoms to date or from date of swab for asymptomatic cases.

These contacts were then being asked to either self-isolate if they were symptomatic, or participate in voluntary at home testing for seven days.

But it has now emerged that fewer people are being directly contacted by the 111 test and trace team, due to the number of close contacts now present on the island.

Mr Ashford told Manx Radio: ’The 111 team has reduced contact tracing, and that was done for two reasons.

’Firstly, the benefit of contact tracing, when we have such a wide outbreak as we have, actually reduced, but equally in terms of trying to have the resources to do so, it’s not been easy when we have had the spread that we have on island.’

The reduction has been criticised by various scientists, including retired pathologist John Wardle, who tweeted that the change in strategy: ’Will reduce the number of positive tests and allow Ashford to claim that there are fewer cases so their policies are working. If mitigations (masks, social distancing, quarantine/testing of travellers) had continued there would really be fewer cases and resources would not be an issue.’

Despite the reduction in contact tracing, Mr Ashford confirmed there are no plans to drop testing at the border for people who are not fully vaccinated, and further emphasised that the majority of people are testing en masse via at-home lateral flow devices (LFDs).

He said: ’People have LFDs available to them, the LFDs that were originally limited to contacts are now available to everyone, so there is much more widespread testing occurring on the island as a result.’

However, some have argued that the plateau and drop in cases in recent days may be due to the change in contact tracing policy, alongside the possibility that people are not reporting positive results, and therefore are avoiding the need to endure a PCR test.

Dr Rachel Glover, who sits on the government’s Emergency Advisory Group and has been very critical of some of the government’s policies, tweeted: ’The logical conclusion for cases "going down" on the Isle of Man is not that transmission is reducing.

’It’s that everyone has given up reporting their positive LFDs so then no PCR test and not on the stats.

’If people believe the government don’t care, they won’t bother to engage.’

She added: ’The problem is, without testing the death rate and hospitalisations will be higher than they should be.

’We should be actively trying to prevent hospitalisations and deaths by testing and mitigations, rather than just going "oh well, it’s going to happen". These are preventable.’