There is an ever-growing consensus among public health experts, doctors, scientists and policy-makers that the vaccination programme needs to be backed up by an effective test and trace system. This is borne out by the experience of other countries, including South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and China. The UK’s under-18s make up 21 per cent of the population but aren’t yet eligible for vaccination, and some people can’t have a vaccination for health reasons. We must aim to suppress the virus as much as possible in order to prevent it from circulating. This will also give it fewer opportunities for mutating into vaccine-resistant variants. The whole vaccination programme could be undermined by such a variant and we would risk going into another lockdown.
In a recent webcast, Sir David King, the Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government from 2000 to 2007, said
We should not be learning to live with this disease. We should be separating those who have the disease, and those who have been in touch with them, from the rest of the population, which is the classic way of handling a pandemic.
The official test and trace system, so-called ‘NHS Test and Trace’, has been allocated a budget of £37 billion over two years but is failing to do its job. This funding must be given to public health teams so that they can find Covid cases, help them get tested, trace and test their contacts, and support people who need to self-isolate, including through grants that will enable them to stay off work. At present, large numbers of people are not coming forward for testing because they can’t afford to self-isolate.
The private sector has utterly failed to run the test and trace system. Testing and tracing should be carried out by properly qualified, properly appointed people, not friends of members of the Conservative Party.
On average, ‘NHS Test and Trace’ spends £1,000 a day on each private sector consultant. Earlier this year, private sector giant Deloitte was supplying it with at least 900 consultants a day. The company has been awarded contracts worth around £300 million during the pandemic. Serco recently saw its share price rise by 5 per cent after it announced that its 2021 profits would be even higher than anticipated. Its chief executive, Rupert Soames, was paid £4.9 million, including bonuses, for 2020. Meanwhile, contact tracers working for ‘NHS Test and Trace’ receive around £10 per hour. Tens of thousands of people have died during this pandemic, many of whom might have lived if we’d had a proper testing system.
Independent SAGE, a respected group of scientists, academics and public health experts, some of whom advise the current government, have stated repeatedly that with a well-functioning, locally run test and trace system, as well as other supportive measures, can end the pandemic in the UK. Like Zero Covid UK, they are calling for ‘ventilation grants’ (government funding for improved ventilation) and better-managed quarantine at our borders. Their latest report is here.
Contrary to what some government ministers seem to think, we still need a test and trace system. Case rates are rising at an alarming rate. Children and young adults in particular are catching Covid and are at risk of developing long-term health problems as a result.
Sajid Javid has said that he wants to see the pandemic ‘come to an end as soon as possible’. Zero Covid UK will be presenting him with a petition calling on the Government to fund local authorities to carry about testing and tracing. A proper test and trace system will give people the confidence to go about their daily lives as normal and support the economy. None of us wants a third wave or another lockdown.
Zero Covid UK’s new leaflet also explains why local public testing and tracing is essential. Forward it to your contacts.
Paul Redgrave, a retired director of public health and a member of Sheffield Community Contact Tracers, explains how good contact tracing works and why it is important.