Metro: The government’s testing strategy has let us all down

We are facing an unprecedented challenge with the coronavirus pandemic and I, like everyone else, want the government to succeed.

Working together constructively in the national interest is vital at this time, which is why I have supported and welcomed many measures taken by the government thus far.

However, working together constructively also relies on a strong opposition, holding the Government to account every step of the way on its strategy - criticising where necessary.

Lives have been lost to this pandemic. I lost my uncle, and having a 30-minute funeral with only 10 family members is just not what we wanted.

Others have suffered from illness or enormous disruption, while some are losing their financial security as a result of this pandemic.

So the government’s decisions have a very real impact on people’s lives and our future.

I would never engage in opposition for opposition’s sake. But I will never shy away from calling out what I think is wrong, and I held my tongue for as long as I could.

There is no bigger criticism I have of this government than its strategy on testing.

It has been an enormous life-endangering failure. Just look at the numbers compared to other countries.

In Germany, the total number of swab tests done by 4 April was well over 1.3 million.

Whereas here in the UK, as of Monday we had only reached 501,379 tests. The government hopes to reach 100,000 tests a day but is currently only testing 18,000 when it has the capacity for 40,000.

The government continues to fail on every level. And according to Our World Data, the UK is carrying out just 6.32 tests per 1,000 people, placing us well below many other developed countries.

Germany, for example, has been praised for its response and have suffered far fewer deaths than the UK.

While testing cannot be the sole reason for that, it certainly plays a big part.

Testing is, after all, vital in how we move forward. Back in March I tweeted that we needed to test, track, treat. It seems the government has finally cottoned on.

It is so important to diagnose people, so we know who has it. Doing so allows us to plan the health service's capacity, and it allows essential workers to return to work without fear of spreading the virus.

We need to know where the clusters are - and I want to know where they are especially in my constituency in Brent - so that messaging can be targeted, and people don't go out and infect others.

Testing also enables us to work out how far it has spread, which is important in working out when we can come out of lockdown. Without this strategy how can we end lockdown?

Last week I posted that lockdown will have to last for a least 12 months, while this week Chris Whitty suggested that social distancing measures could last for a further year or longer.

Without critiquing the government or highlighting their incompetence we will never get the transparency we need.

The World Health Organisation once advised governments to 'test, test, test'. Well, sadly this government, in all its arrogance, ignored, ignored, ignored.

This arrogance is nothing new. In the early days of this pandemic, it was Matt Hancock who reported that the virus was a low risk to the UK and said that we were well prepared.

We now have almost 20,000 deaths – likely much more if social care figures are taken into account – and our health service doesn’t have the PPE it needs.

This arrogance has been demonstrated over the years too. It’s been reported that a rehearsal for a pandemic was carried out in 2016, which 'predicted the health service would collapse and highlighted a long list of shortcomings — including, presciently, a lack of PPE and intensive care ventilators'.

These are the real-life consequences of a decade of austerity. We have seen the systematic underfunding of our health service, and the constant diverting of money to other issues like Brexit, which has left the country vulnerable and unprepared.

This hasn't been helped by the government’s apparent ‘herd immunity’ strategy in the early stages of this pandemic. It meant testing was not a priority when it needed to be. By the time they changed their tune, we had lost so much time to do the mass testing needed.

This egoism stretches across the West. After a French doctor appallingly suggested that the first vaccines be tested in Africa first, the head of the World Health Organisation said that 'the hangover from a colonial mentality has to stop'.

He’s right.

In my opinion it is this way of thinking that led to government ignoring important information that could have protected people. Why would they take advice from those considered developing countries?

The government now needs to start being honest about its failings and develop a proper system of testing that protects us all.

What we really need is to ramp up test and trace, which has been successful elsewhere, such as in South Korea.

Tests must be accurate and reliable. This will allow us to identify anyone who has the virus, pursue all their recent contacts and ensure they isolate.

Our current strategy has bought us time but not a solution.

The government has been slow and ineffective when it comes to testing and when this pandemic is over they will have serious questions to answer.

But for now, it is not too late to put in place a proper strategy on testing and tracing - which Labour has long been calling for - to protect the UK and prevent more tragic deaths.