As the PM prepared to pick up the reins once more at the Cabinet meetings and daily press briefings, it’s become increasingly clear that the much-trumpeted 100,000 tests a day target is nowhere near being met by the end of April deadline. The latest figure was just 52,429 tests, for Tuesday. As this morning’s government interviewee on the Today programme, Justice Minister Robert Buckland may have introduced a new entrant to the soundbite lexicon (alongside ‘ramping up’, ‘straining every sinew’, ‘flattening the curve’ and many others) – ‘working hand in glove’, somewhat ironic given the recent spotlight on PPE and single gloves being counted separately.
Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rachel Reeves, said the government has been “too slow” on testing, which is why “we are still way off that goal” of 100,000 tests a day. The whole of government need to take responsibility for this and start to get things right…Tests are not being carried out at anything like the scale the government promised and the government need to get a grip and get their act together.” It still seems surprising that part of this ‘getting a grip’ hasn’t taken the form of stopping flights or at least testing and quarantining disembarking passengers, as South Korea did at the start.
Professor Allyson Pollock, public health expert and director of the Newcastle University Centre for Excellence in Regulatory Science, smashed it on BBC World at One, clarifying that the government doesn’t actually have ‘a strategy’: testing doesn’t make sense without contact tracing and there should be local public health teams coordinating all this rather than the unhelpfully centralised approach directed by Westminster. No coordination = no strategy (shades of the Emperor’s new clothes syndrome). One tweeter suggested Professor Pollock for SAGE – great idea.
It was revealing hearing World about At One presenter Sarah Montague’s COVID19 test, which she recorded on her phone. The whole procedure sounded clunky and how absurd that she had to go in a private car and so far from her home. This effectively restricts mass testing and surely the kind of thing journalists could ask at the Downing Street Briefing and the public could raise during BBC Question Time tonight.
Not before time, politicians and experts have called for urgent action to create more space for walking and cycling during lockdown in the UK, and ‘to avoid a nightmare rise in traffic as restrictions on movement are lifted’. Although most councils haven’t acted yet, there’s increasing concern at the lack of time left to ensure viable alternatives to car use are available. It can already feel a struggle trying to do a decent walk or run because of the numbers of people doing the same thing and lack of etiquette (eg people walking two or more abreast, dominating a narrow path or pavement), forcing others onto the road and into the way of passing traffic. As exercise is so important for our mental health as well as physical, it’s imperative thought is given to these space creation measures.
BBC PM has just had an interesting piece about the British Library’s COVID Chronicles project, an electronic archive of COVID-related content people are invited to contribute to, so I’m going to let them know about this humble blog!
As the death toll was announced as 26,711 this evening, it seemed to me (and others) that the PM put in a poor and blustering performance at the Downing Street Briefing, starting with alluding to the UK’s ‘success’, based on the strange criterion of the NHS ‘not being overwhelmed’, never mind the shocking death toll. The response to the mental health question was especially lacking, eg ‘There are lines you can call’. For the zillionth time, services need properly funding and many of these won’t be staffed by qualified counsellors. The PM responded to Robert Peston’s question on strategy with ‘Broadly speaking, I think we did do the right things at the right times’. One indignant listener tweeted: ‘The families of 40,000 dead people would like to take issue with Boris Johnson’s “disaster having been avoided”. Also with the upbeat “Tigger” mood of the PM when briefing about mass deaths. He might have recovered from COVID19, thousands didn’t’.
Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke summed it up:
“We have succeeded in avoiding the tragedy we saw in other parts of the world.” Did
Boris Johnson *seriously* just say this? 26k deaths. One of the world’s worst death rates. I care for these patients. They’re human beings, Mr Johnson. This is the definition of tragic.’
It’s very timely that tonight’s The Briefing Room on Radio 4 focuses on social care – 4,500 providers in a fragmented sector. Successive governments have kicked the social care can down the road for years – now COVID19 and the shocking number of deaths in care homes (one third of the death toll) means this cannot continue. Let’s hope the government is held to account on when we can expect that long promised Green Paper!