From David Maughan Brown in York: ‘Carry on Testing’

August 3rd

Who would ever have thought that the not particularly fascinating (unless, presumably, you happen to be a virologist) topic of antibody-testing could ever justify being the main focus of 18 of my blogs over a mere four and a half months, written by someone who is very much not a virologist?  Perhaps it isn’t that fascinating; perhaps it is just that lockdown has limited my horizons to the point where even the very smallest things seem interesting.  But this particular very smallest thing happens to be threatening to wipe out a significant portion of the world’s population, and, looking back, I see that I have managed to avoid mentioning Covid-19 testing at all since July 9th. Anyway it may not be the antibody-testing itself that I find interesting; perhaps it is the complete divorce between what the government says about it and what it does about it.  

After somewhere around 20,000 deaths in care homes since the onset of the pandemic had called our unmatchable Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s claim to have thrown a ‘protective ring around care homes’ into some doubt, Hancock announced in June that from 6th July there would be weekly tests for all staff, and monthly tests for all residents, of care homes for those over 65, regardless of whether tor not they were showing any symptoms of the disease.  The same was promised for all other care homes from the beginning of this month.  This, Hancock assured us, would ‘not only keep residents and care workers safe, but give certainty and peace of mind to families.’   It might, indeed, have done so, had this promise been met, unlike the lamentable litany of other unfulfilled promises on testing targets over the past few months.  Needless to say, it wasn’t. So far, according to an Independent report, only around 3,300 out of a total of some 9,200 homes have been sent the promised testing equipment, and Professor Jane Cummings (one hopes no relation), the government’s adult social care testing director, has now announced that the July 6th testing regime has been put back to 7th September.  Don’t hold your breath.   Hancock’s ‘protective ring’ calls to mind the inflatable swimming rings that toddlers used to wear to keep them safe before they could swim, the only problem being that this one had a very large puncture.  Too bad for the toddler.   

Too bad for the rest of us as well.  The BBC news headlines are now telling us that scientists are warning that unless there is a dramatic improvement in what Boris Johnson, in his post-Covid-19 delirium, thinks is already a ‘world-beating’ test and trace system, we can expect the next wave of the infection to kill twice as many people as have died from it to date.   But it isn’t just the big picture that reveals the shambolic incompetence of the people who have so unwisely been elected to lead us, and supposedly keep us safe, it is the lived experience at an individual level.  To give just one example, a friend’s daughter who lives on the south coast recently felt unwell with covid-like symptoms, phoned for advice and was directed to go to a testing centre.   She doesn’t have a car, and the centre was some distance away, but she wanted to avoid public transport, as per government advice, and the distance was just about walkable, so, in spite of feeling unwell, she walked.  When she arrived she was asked where her car was.  She said she didn’t own a car.  She was told she had to have a car.  Well she didn’t have a car, she had walked all the way, so what was she supposed to do?  Call a taxi, meet the taxi outside the centre, get into the taxi, get the taxi to drive into the centre, and only then could she be tested.  One can only hope that, having been compelled to risk the taxi, she then allowed it to take her all the way home.   If it were even remotely funny, there would be more than enough material for someone to write the screenplay for ‘Carry on Testing’, with Matt Hancock playing the straight-man and Boris Johnson playing himself.

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