In the middle of March as the coronavirus pandemic gripped Europe the World Health Organisation sent out a very simple message; “test, test, test” to beat the spread of the disease.
Noting that it is “impossible to fight a fire blindfolded” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said testing, isolation and contact tracing should be the “backbone” of the global response, a strategy backed by Nobel laureates shortly after.
But the UK government, reportedly guided by Dominic Cummings, chose to disregard the guidance shortly after the announcement was made, preferring to push a strategy of “herd immunity” to protect the economy.
The approach was reversed after a study from Imperial College London showed how badly hospitals would be overwhelmed, but the delay has cost Britain vital time.
Lack of testing
While Germany ramps up coronavirus tests to 500,000 a week, the UK government is failing to meet its target of 10,000 tests a day at the moment.
Labour deputy leadership candidate and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan said the “lack of testing is having a huge mental health impact on our NHS workforce”, with former health secretary Jeremy Hunt also conceding that it was “very worrying” that the Government was not pursuing a policy of mass testing.
But the government’s response was not to give reassurance, but to lie its way out of trouble.
Michael Gove said a shortage of the chemical reagents needed for the tests was proving to be a “critical constraint” on the Government’s capacity to ramp up capacity, a point which was discredited by the Chemicals Industry Association shortly after.
According to its members there is no shortage of the relevant reagents, with many left stumped by the cabinet minister’s words.
The Association also points out there was an industry chat with a business minister on Tuesday, who made no attempt to find out if there was a supply problem for the vital ingredients of Covid-19 testing kits.
“So this question of why there aren’t enough tests for the virus is an even bigger mystery,” Robert Peston notes.
And if it turns out there is a shortage, “these manufacturers are more than happy to increase their production.
“But they need to be asked, which has not happened.”