From David Maughan Brown in York: Still testing

May 1st

Mea culpa.  What was I thinking yesterday when I cast doubt on the possibility of the government meeting its entirely arbitrary Covid-19 target of 100,000 tests a day by April 30th?  The Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, this afternoon proudly announced that on April 30th the number of completed tests was, in fact, rather over 122,000.  My problem, I have to confess, was that I just hadn’t been keeping up with the times.  On Wednesday 28th April roughly 54,000 people were tested, and it seemed something of a stretch, to put it mildly, to imagine that after ‘ramping up’ the testing to just over half the target in the first 28 days of the month the ‘ramping up’ could be turbocharged to the point where that number could be doubled in the remaining two days of the month.  But I hadn’t been paying attention and was naïve enough to imagine that the number of tests announced each day referred to the number of people who had been tested that day.   I hadn’t picked up that although only just over 54,000 people had been tested on Wednesday the number of tests government claimed was actually rather over 81,000.  27,000 of those tests were ‘retests’, although quite how people could be tested and then retested on the same day remains a mystery.

A huge amount of effort on the part of very many public servants has gone into increasing the number of tests being carried out, and those on the ground organizing and carrying out the testing are to be warmly commended on that.  But, at the risk of seeming churlish, it is quite clear that the figures are being massaged.  For the past week Hancock has seemed extremely anxious about the possibility of his thumb-suck target being met, to the point where he started talking about increasing the UK’s testing ‘capacity’ to 100,000 tests a day, implicitly acknowledging that his target for actual tests was unlikely to be met.   But then someone appears to have had a better wheeze and the number of home test kits sent out every day has been added into the daily count.  So the 40,000 test-kits ‘delivered’ on Friday were counted in the total, entirely regardless of whether they had reached the people they were intended for, whether the tests had been completed, and whether the results had been recorded.  The number of verified tests was much closer to 80,000.

Being skeptical of Matt Hancock’s numbers is a sure sign that I just don’t have the faith.  Leaping from 52,000 to 122,000 completed tests over the space of two or three days would require a miracle, and who is around to work miracles?  The answer, as far as much of our media is concerned, would seem obvious.   Boris’s return from the almost-dead this week has been greeted like the Second Coming.  He returned to us from ICU and his privileged convalescence at his second home ‘raring to go’.  No wonder it only took two days for the miracle to come about.  Oh me of little faith!  But it isn’t too late:  there is still time for my subconscious to direct me towards Sylvia Woods’ harp settings of ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’, and I might yet find myself picking out ‘Oh come let us adore him’.   Unlikely, but miracles are apparently possible.

One thought on “From David Maughan Brown in York: Still testing

  1. Quite so. Even were one to believe the figures related to actual tests carried out, the organisation representing NHS providers assert that the target is something of a distraction. More important issues include – who is getting tested, who is being prioritised, are key workers being tested, etc


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