| 10.9°C Belfast

Influencers paid taxpayer funds to promote struggling Test and Trace scheme

Love Island’s Shaughna Phillips and Chris Hughes posted advertisements for testing but did not observe social distancing in other recent posts.

Close

Stars of Love Island are among those to have been paid to endorse the Test and Trace scheme (ITV/PA)

Stars of Love Island are among those to have been paid to endorse the Test and Trace scheme (ITV/PA)

Stars of Love Island are among those to have been paid to endorse the Test and Trace scheme (ITV/PA)

The Government has admitted to paying social media influencers and reality TV stars to promote the NHS Test and Trace system as it failed to reach its 80% target for the ninth week in a row.

A spokesman said the Government had a responsibility to “use every means possible” to keep the public informed during the pandemic.

He said: “Our use of social media influencers has meant over 7 million people have been reached. This is just one part of a wider campaign utilising TV, radio, social, print and other advertisements to ensure the public has the information it needs.”

It comes as the Sunday Mirror reported Love Island stars Shaughna Phillips, Chris Hughes and Josh Denzel were among those paid by the Cabinet Office to tell their online followers testing for Covid-19 was “free, quick and vital to stop the spread”.

But Phillips and Hughes have also both posted images online in the last month which showed them failing to socially distance from others on Mediterranean islands.

The Mirror cited a social media expert as saying the stars would usually command between £5,000 and £10,000 for an ad post.

The Government’s spokesman said: “All costs involved in the campaign will be published as part of the regular transparency reports on gov.uk.”

The celebrities could also face an investigation by the Advertising Standards Agency after not initially labelling their posts as advertisements.

The Government’s spokesman indicated the Cabinet Office had been clear about labelling such content correctly and noted all three posts had “now” been marked as ads.

It comes after recent data showed three-quarters of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 were reached through the Test and Trace system, once again falling short of the Government’s target.

View this post on Instagram

A throwback to what I love most! Nights out and good friends! Although this may feel like a distant memory to us all, we can all do our part to make sure we can get back to better times, as safely as possible. Guys I want to remind you about the importance of Coronavirus testing and that its totally free, quick and is vital to stop the spread of coronavirus. Getting tested for coronavirus is the best way for us all to get back to doing the things we love and I love nothing more than spending time with my friends. Yesterday I visited my nearest drive though testing centre, which is literally 2 minutes from my house! I was able to book a test online, and have it carried out all under 1 hour, it was so convenient! When I woke up this morning I had already received my results by text and email! I’ve also checked the Royal Mail website to see where my nearest priority postbox is, as well as the stickers I need to look out for on the postbox itself. This will help me in the future if I need to carry out a home test kit. Everyone with symptoms, no matter how mild, can get a free test by calling 119 or visiting NHS.uk. #letsgetback #gettested #ad

A post shared by Shaughna Phillips (@shaughnaphillips) on

Some 75.5% of close contacts in England were reached in the week ending August 19.

While this is up from 71.6% in the previous week, it is the ninth week in a row where the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) target of isolating 80% of contacts of coronavirus cases within 48-72 hours has been missed.

Ahead of the figures being published, Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged the system was “not quite there”.

PA