OPINION: Proper testing and track-and-trace should be the government’s only priority right now

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a virtual press conference at Downing Street, London, following the announcement that...

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a virtual press conference at Downing Street, London, following the announcement that the legal limit on social gatherings is set to be reduced from 30 people to six. - Credit: PA

Editor David Powles calls on the government to get on top of coronavirus testing and its track-and-trace scheme.

Postwick Covid-19 testing centre at 7pm on September 14. Picture: Mike Page

Postwick Covid-19 testing centre at 7pm on September 14. Picture: Mike Page - Credit: Mike Page

We’re all desperate for some positive news right now regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

As summer starts to fade away and cases rise again it is starting to look like a long, hard winter is in the offing for many. That’s certainly what we should all be preparing for - so we can come up with our own personal strategies to help us to cope.

So, when Boris Johnson finished his ‘law of six’ speech last week with a pledge that a ‘world-class’ mass testing plan was on the way, for many it probably seemed like he was presenting some light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Effectively, the prime minister was encouraging people to prepare for tough times over the next few months, but be reassured that once the shoots of spring started to emerge, so too would happier times.

And as the announcement broke it was interesting to see the reaction around the newsroom.

Journalists, often renowned for being amongst the most cynical of people, are humans too and even we need some hope to hold onto right now. And you could see this is precisely what it did, as Operation Moonshot brought with it the promise that a mass testing programme could bring back so many aspects of our lives that so many of us are missing.

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One week on, Mr Johnson’s bold statement already looks to have been, at worst, a diversionary tactic to steer people away from being down about fresh restrictions on their lives, and, at best, a complete and utter shot in the dark.

For it quickly emerged that, as with one or two other ill-fated schemes during 2020, the prime minister’s pledges weren’t exactly backed up by a robust plan of action. If any plan at all.

Within hours of the announcement, experts scrambled to quell expectations and make it clear the reality of the situation was very different from how it had been portrayed. Was it called ‘Moonshot’ because there’s about as much chance of us reaching the moon again, as there is it actually happening?

We’ve heard little of ‘Operation Moonshot’ since and I fear we may hear little of it again - although this is one prediction I’d be very happy to be wrong about.

Meanwhile, in the same week that the nation was told of grand plans for mass testing, we struggle to get on top of the current, much smaller testing programme. And, sadly, that remains the biggest obstacle to life returning to the level of normality we all crave.

Until a vaccine is discovered and rolled out, the key to effectively containing a second wave lays in two areas; effective and quick testing and a proper track-and-trace system.

It’s of great concern therefore that both have been found wanting when put in practice in Norfolk in recent weeks. Following the Banham Poultry outbreak, for too long only a small percentage of those who had come into contact with those infected had been tracked down and asked to isolate.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen over the last week dozens of people struggle to get tests when they need them. If that isn’t solved soon, we could see a lot of turmoil as we head into winter and even more people pick up the sort of bugs that will leave them wondering if they have coronavirus.

These issues are preventing an effective local lockdown scheme from being put in place and it is these issues that are stopping the people of Norfolk, where infection rates remain so low, from being able to enjoy more freedom in their lives.

And it is these issues our government should be putting all of its efforts towards fixing.