Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out the Government’s steps to ease the lockdown and “control the virus” in a recent speech that addressed the British nation on Sunday evening. Over 30,000 people have been recorded to have died in the UK from COVID-19 and the Government has struggled to meet their daily testing targets. TCS Network look into how the failures to set and meet feasible targets may be making the crisis worse.
It was only last month that the British government spent £16 million on “antibody” tests that did not work, from companies in China. Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, announced that the government had surpassed their COVID-19 daily testing targets of 100,000. This figure included the home test kits that were sent out by the government, but a large oversight in this is that there is no telling whether these kits were even used. Boris Johnson, perhaps prematurely, rushed to announce that the government were doubling the goal to 200,000 tests a day. As the BBC reported, Boris Johnson had said that it is his “ambition” to hit 200,000 tests by the end of May.
Some have argued that this announcement was simply to distract the public from the fact that the government has failed to meet its original target of 100,000 a day, for several days in a row now. Britain will need to meet these goals and potentially surpass them, in order to get to the level one of the newly adopted Coronavirus Alert System, where there is no trace of COVID-19 in the UK.
The Alert System address
As the Prime Minister outlined in his address to the nation on Sunday 10th May, we must obtain more “control” of the virus as a nation before lockdown is fully eased. That being said, he is asking that those who can return to work to do so, urging people to avoid using public transport and opting to ride a bike or walk to work.
He said: “Though we grieve for all those we have lost, it is a fact that by adopting those measures we have prevented this country from being engulfed by what could have been a catastrophe in which the reasonable worst case scenario was half a million fatalities.”
He continued on to say, “Although we have a plan, it is a conditional plan. We cannot move forward unless we satisfy the five tests.”
These tests in summary, are to “protect the NHS”, “see sustained falls in the death rate”, “sustained and considerable falls” in the infection rate, overcome challenges in providing PPE, and to avoid and ensure that actions taken will not increase the reproduction rate (R). The Prime Minister made reference to the new Coronavirus Alert System with level 5 being “the most critical – the kind of situation that we could have had if the NHS had been overwhelmed.”
However, many testimonials of NHS workers do demonstrate that there indeed have been examples of the NHS being overwhelmed. Just recently, we here at TCS Network spoke to a diverse range of healthcare professionals who voiced their concerns over lack of protection and unclear guidance from the government. And with the UK witnessing the second highest death rates from coronavirus in the world, it seems the Prime Minister’s optimistic speech had overlooked the true reality of our poor handling of the pandemic.
How do testing targets fit into the picture?
It is important that the government are held accountable for their handling of the crisis, and statistics are one of the key ways to keep track of the virus. If testing targets are not met, how can we know the true scale of the virus and adequately monitor the alert level?
Furthermore, testing is not only an important area for patients, but also for NHS workers and other key workers such as those who work in care homes and social workers. The lack of testing, especially within care homes, arguably contributed to the amount of hidden deaths that were witnessed within the UK’s most vulnerable communities.
There is also the clear question of whether the government will be able to prevent a second wave of the virus if testing targets are not met and lockdown measures are lifted too soon. We have seen the government adopt new strategies with testing, such as testing being expanded in England to more people including those in the over-65 age bracket, as well as similar and extensive enhancements in Scotland and Wales. It is very important that in the race to defeat COVID- 19, we continue to take all the preventative measures to suppress the spread and do not disregard the seriousness of the situation. Failure to do so will compromise our public health and undermine the devastation that we have already witnessed as a result of unclear leadership.