UK’s Covid-19 testing capacity is reaching only 10,000 per day. Three weeks ago Boris Johnson had hoped for 25,000 tests a day, whereas Germany is capable of conducting 160,000 per week with a capacity of 500,000  

From his quarantine, Boris Johnson is conducting Cabinet meetings via Zoom Video Communications. It seems that almost half the Cabinet, No10 and their medical advisers have Covid-19. Thus deputies have been taking the daily briefings. The core messaging remains the same—wash hands, stay at home, thank the NHS. The NHS staff are the real frontline heroes, facing a deadly infectious enemy unlike any other care emergency they have previously experienced. But the government messaging on testing, ventilators, what folks can and cannot do has been confused. It is true that Johnson, experts, MPs have contradicted each other, and seemingly changed strategy; the public feels that ministers and medical advisers dodge a direct answer to questions. The government recognises that the messaging is confused internally and externally. As Isaac Levido, the Australian political strategist and election guru, is returning to synchronise and sharpen up the messaging, one meme can be expected to take us through the duration of coronavirus, #Whateverittakes?
UK’s Covid-19 testing capacity is reaching only 10,000 per day. Three weeks ago Boris Johnson had hoped for 25,000 tests a day, whereas Germany is capable of conducting 160,000 per week with a capacity of 500,000. The UK has not been using its full laboratory testing capacity as Health Secretary Matt Hancock had imposed a priority of 85% of tests for patients and a cap of only 15% for NHS frontline staff. NHS staff were crying out for tests, many were isolating at home after contact with an infected person. Following the rules meant they were unable to work. Some preliminary testing of these staff showed only 15% were infected, meaning that the remaining 85% could theoretically go back to the frontline.
Matt Hancock’s briefings focus on slowing the spread. To resolve the current distribution problems he has introduced a new logistics department that will get stuff where it is needed in less than three weeks. Hancock has also written off £13.4billion of historic NHS debt. He has listed some challenges his department faced, such as a shortage of swabs and reagent substances (typically these mostly come from EU and US), and apparently UK has many excellent scientific laboratories but not many diagnostics laboratories, bio pharmaceutical companies Astra Zeneca and GSK are stepping up to help.
Hancock has broadened the capacity for polymerase chain reaction testing. The UK tests must be infallible unlike the tests sent from Bioeasy in China to Spain that only had 30% accuracy and the Eurofins of Luxembourg tests that were found to be actually contaminated with Covid-19.
Swab testing done in Public Health England labs and by commercial partners such as various universities, Boots Pharmacy and Amazon will help reach Hancock’s target. A second easier test to develop is in the pipeline, this is an anti-body detection finger-prick blood test, taken 28 days after a suspected infection that will deliver an immunity result in 20 minutes; Hancock has suggested that an immunity certificate enabling folks return to work is a possibility, when more about the length and degree of immunity is discovered. The swab and blood test combination will total an ambitious 100,000 tests by the end of March; with investigative research, surveillance and population sampling Hancock hopes the beat the coronavirus menace; citizens are depending on Hancock to deliver as promised.
This reporter has a hypothesis that the government is counting on the blood tests revealing that many citizens have been asymptomatic, that a large proportion of the population has already experienced Covid-19, thus validating the original herd immunity strategy. If this is the case the government could start to phase out the current lockdown.
Suddenly nurses, doctors and consultants are joining social media, sharing their insights about shortages of staff, PPE kit, oxygen, anaesthetics, sedatives, testing, ventilators, respiratory beds and conditions in hospitals and provisions on supermarket shelves; hospital patients are also on social media broadcasting the severity of the menace and the need to keep up social distancing.
Inigo Martincorena, scientist at the Sanger Institute genomics research centre has modelled that UK is still tracking Italy with a two-week time lapse.
He says if stricter measures had been taken a week earlier the UK pandemic would have been three times smaller (likely translating into many thousands fewer deaths and the need for a shorter and less disruptive lockdown)”.
Covid-19 has cancelled all the cultural events Britons enjoy: Badminton Horse trials, horse-racing including Royal Ascot (it is now recognised that holding Cheltenham races in February was a huge mistake), Wimbledon, Glastonbury, Edinburgh Festival. All this will result in significant losses of revenue to SMEs and the self-employed. Television program filming has been postponed so re-runs of past sporting events and dramas are being aired. COP26 in Glasgow and all elective surgeries have been postponed.
Folks are beginning to question the government’s handling of the situation. No doubt the No10 team has the best intentions, but critics have asked if the decision-making team too small, too narrow, too disorganised, too late. Pre-coronavirus there were differences and dissention between the civil service and political special advisers that led to speculation the civil service may be reorganised. That tension is existential and criticism has become mainstream.
UK was severely under prepared for an effective pandemic response, despite the earlier exercises that informed about the level of under-preparedness, systems, stocks and infrastructure were not updated.
As the WHO is no-longer a reliable early warning system, what is needed is an official independent international disease monitoring body, a network akin to the Five-Eyes security system. For their expertise US, UK, Germany, India and Australia would make an ideal disease monitoring partnership.

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