Regular readers of our Covid2020diary blog will have noticed that Covid-19 testing or lack thereof has become a source of morbid fascination for me. It’s like watching an incompetent clown trying to ride a unicycle round and round a circus ring, falling off in an ungainly and far from funny heap at regular intervals, but endlessly persisting in getting up and trying again in full view of a tent full of varyingly astonished, bored or increasingly angry spectators, some of whom have been unsuccessfully trying to boo him out of the ring ever since his first pratfall. The tragedy being that people’s loved ones go on dying outside the tent.
Our supposedly world-beating Test and Trace system is disintegrating, as was apparent from my entry a few days ago about people with coronavirus symptoms being sent hundreds of miles for a test. Fewer that 28% of test results are being returned from the inaptly named centralised ‘Lighthouse’ laboratories within the targeted 24 hours. Some are taking up to 8 days, with rumours circulating that some tests are being sent to USA (improbable) and some to Germany or Holland (much more likely) for processing. Contact tracing is nowhere near the 95% efficiency that experts are saying is required if the virus is to be kept under control, but, unsurprisingly, contact tracing by local health authorities is proving much more successful than the centralised outsourced system favoured by government for purely ideological, rather than health-related, reasons. Serco, a private company with no previous experience whatever in the field has recently had its £300 million contract renewed by government without any invitation for competitive bids being issued. NHS hospitals that have been doing their own testing out of desperation to have their staff tested so that they can continue to work have been instructed not to conduct their own tests. Boris is at it again, pulling a new numerical rabbit out of the top hat and promising that 500,000 tests a day will be achieved by the end of October. Either he has forgotten, or thinks that we will have forgotten, that he pulled exactly the same rabbit out of exactly the same hat on July 17th. Then he had over a hundred days to play with, now he has 36. We are still only managing around 40% of his target and the rabbit is getting a bit long in the tooth. It won’t be coincidental that the latest figures on infections show that we have just exceeded the highest number of Covid-19 infections across the UK ever. Increases in the number of hospitalizations and deaths will follow inexorably.
Today the Chancellor of the Exchequer cancelled this year’s budget speech, making it clear that now is not the time to start thinking about how to fund the hundreds of billions that have been spent so far on Covid. As the furlough scheme comes towards its scheduled end, Sunak also announced another, much less generous, job-support scheme that may help to stave off some of the impending redundancies, but he also accepted that many of the jobs the furlough scheme had been supporting have effectively disappeared and should no longer be funded. A huge rise in unemployment is inevitable. Morrison’s is rationing toilet paper again because people are starting to hoard it again.
Today we also learnt that one of the benefits of the Brexiteers’ promised Brexit-land is going to be a police-patrolled border, not between Northern Ireland and Ireland after all (or not yet), but between Kent and the rest of the UK. In anticipation of the real possibility, acknowledged by government, of queues of up to 7000 heavy goods vehicles spending up to two days each queuing as they try to negotiate the customs and other hurdles involved from January 1st in getting across the 21 miles of the English Channel, lorries without the necessary paper-work are going to be stopped at the Kent border. That is probably not what people thought was meant when they voted to ‘take control of our borders’. Concreting over large swathes of the Kent countryside to accommodate 29 giant lorry-parks is apparently not considered likely to be adequate to accommodate the HGVs. Perishable goods will perish. Entirely undaunted by such mere details, our stately ship of fools sails determinedly on into the sunset. Under no circumstances will our Brexiteer cabinet contemplate postponing the end of the Brexit transition period from January 1st 2021. It has been entrenched in law, they say, ignoring the fact that if their parliamentary majority could see to its entrenchment it could presumably equally easily make sure that it is disentrenched.
Add Covid-19 + Mass unemployment + an economy in deep recession + No deal Brexit, and how do you describe anyone who thinks the sum of the four makes a good enough mix to be even vaguely contemplable? Perhaps as suffering from a “mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality”? That happens to be the first part of law.com’s definition of insanity.