Six months after the coronavirus outbreak … and the government is still clueless: BEN SPENCER has been analyzing pandemic errors for half a year
Doctors have to stay away from work because they cannot get a test. Ask university researchers to process a huge backlog of swabs.
Sound familiar? These stories hit the headlines in late March. Incredible, they reappeared almost six months later.
How did that happen?
The government spent April and May dealing with their test failures by building a huge new system that should be able to offer a test to anyone who needed one.
First we were promised 100,000 tests a day, then 250,000, then 400,000. Finally, last week came Boris Johnson's "moon shot" announcement – "literally millions" of people were being tested every day "in the near future," he claimed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a new prioritization list clarifying that patients and nursing home residents will be at the top of the queue. Why did this huge test system collapse so dramatically?
It sounded remarkable – a way back to normal. But the reality? For most of the days over the past few weeks, the system has struggled to process even 150,000 swabs a day and is now at least 185,000 backlog.
People with symptoms are regularly told that no test is available – unless they are willing to travel hundreds of kilometers.
And yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a new priority list that made it clear that patients and nursing home residents would be at the top of the queue. Why did this huge test system collapse so dramatically?
The main reason is that the demand has increased – and the network of laboratories that run the tests just can't keep up.
Infections are doubling every week – and for every person who tests positive there are up to 100 more who will need a test even if they turn out to be negative. The start of the school year has also seen an increase in seasonal coughs and colds, which has resulted in even greater demand.
But all of this was foreseeable. Scientists have long warned that the test system must be functional by the time schools return and, above all, in time for a predicted second increase in Covid this winter.
Oxford University's Sir John Bell said ministers "underestimated" the speed with which cases would occur and the additional demand from children returning to school.
"You are definitely around the corner," he said.
A woman uses an umbrella to protect herself from the sun while she waits for a coronavirus test outside a community center in Bury
But instead of accepting that they were caught unawares, ministers have accused the public of “frivolously” looking for tests when they have no symptoms. Given that ministers and officials have spent the summer convincing people to seek tests, it is not only unfair but also misleading.
The government seems intent on diverting attention from fundamental problems with its network of seven privately owned "lighthouse" laboratories that were set up this spring. At the time, scholars questioned why ministers turned to the private sector rather than using the expertise in UK university laboratories.
According to reports, the lighthouse laboratories are now facing a staff shortage. There were also reliability issues. Allan Wilson, president of the Institute of Biomedical Science, the professional body for laboratory scientists, said, “We want transparency. We need someone to open the lid of the lighthouse labs and tell them how big the capacity is. & # 39;
With cases increasing and no quick fix in sight, the problems of last spring are definitely back – and they seem to stretch into winter.