Taxpayer money was used to pay social media influencers and reality TV stars to promote the NHS Test and Trace system, the government has admitted.
As the system 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 coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “Our use of social media influencers has meant over seven 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.”
Love Island stars Shaughna Phillips, Josh Denzel and Chris Hughes 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”, the Daily Mirror reported.
Both Phillips and Hughes have also posted photos online in the last month in which they are not socially distancing on Mediterranean islands.
The Mirror cited a social media expert as saying the influencers would usually be paid between £5,000 and £10,000 for an ad post.
The government’s spokesman added: “All costs involved in the campaign will be published as part of the regular transparency reports on gov.uk.”
Stars who took part in the campaign could be investigated by the Advertising Standards Agency after not labelling their posts as advertisements initially.
The government’s spokesman said the Cabinet Office had been clear they needed to label such content correctly and all three posts now are marked as ads.
Recent data showed only three-quarters of close contacts of people who tested positive for COVID-19 were reached through the Test and Trace programme.
In the week ending 19 August, 75.5% of close contacts in England were reached – below the target of isolating 80% of contacts of coronavirus cases within 48-72 hours.
Ahead of the figures being published, Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged the system was “not quite there”.