Colin Martin gives his views on the Prime Minister's 10th May announcement:
Every time we consider leaving the house, we should ask ourselves this question: If I find out tomorrow that I have been carrying the virus, how many people might I have infected today and how quickly could they be traced and tested?
The freedom to travel unlimited distances for exercise means everyone in Cornwall now faces the danger of being infected by a day-tripper the next time they go to the supermarket.
Encouraging as many people as possible to go back to work means tens of thousands of people risk being infected by colleagues in the workplace.
This might be justifiable if there was an effective tracking, tracing and testing system in place, but the UK is behind the curve on all three:
- The UK contact tracking app won’t be available nationwide until late May, even though 28 other countries had launched them by mid-April.
- The Government decided to stop tracing recent contacts of COVID patients on March 12th because it didn’t have enough staff to deal with the UK’s 1,500 confirmed cases. But in Cornwall, where there were just 8 cases, the Council offered to use its experienced environmental health staff to help with the contact tracing process. Central Government rejected this offer and refused to even tell Cornwall Council what towns the cases were in! By the time lockdown was announced eleven days later, there were over 11,000 confirmed cases nationally (41 in Cornwall) plus countless more suspected cases who were no longer being offered tests. On April 23rd the Health Secretary announced he was recruiting “an army of 18,000 contact tracers” but, two weeks later, the job adverts have only just been placed, offering a few pence above the minimum wage and no requirement for medical knowledge or experience of contact-tracing.
- The Government claimed to have delivered 100,000 tests per day by the end of April, but in reality, many of these tests took over a week to be processed and the daily number has since fallen back below 70,000. There are also questions over the accuracy of tests as patients have to swab their own nose and throat rather than being assisted by a healthcare professional.
The Government should have seen that the countries which were most successful in containing the Coronavirus were those who put maximum effort into tracking, tracing and testing at the earliest opportunity. But despite the virus arriving in the UK several weeks later than elsewhere, the Government failed to act soon enough to ramp up our capacity in these crucial areas. It compounded these errors by rejecting offers of help from Councils with experience in contact tracing. But the most deadly decision of all was the eleven day gap between the end of contact-tracing and the start of lockdown which allowed the number of cases to increase sevenfold.
Whether it’s a deliberate decision or simply a failure to understand the science, I believe that that instead of putting us on a path to eliminate the virus, the Government is leading us into a “slow burn” where thousands of lives are sacrificed in order to open up the economy more quickly.
The Prime Minister did not provide any evidence that it is safe to ease the lockdown. Last night’s announcement should simply be read as “We’ve now got space for you in the ICU, so get back to work”.