According to Professor Chris Whitty, we are going to treat Covid more like flu in future. But that does not match the picture emerging of post-lockdown Britain, not least the Government’s enthusiasm for making Covid tests a central pillar of the plans. When was anyone tested for flu before they were allowed to attend a football match? Yet that is exactly what is being suggested as part of a pilot scheme for reopening large events.
Schoolchildren are already being made to take lateral flow tests twice a week – something which is turning up very few cases. Whatever system of international travel is eventually implemented is likely to be built to greater or lesser extent around testing. Even when the dreaded Covid passports are up and running, testing is still likely to remain a significant part of our lives. Certainly it will while Britain opens up, and for those too young to have yet been offered a jab.
The Government has achieved one big success during the Covid crisis: its mass vaccination programme, which has seen more than half the adult population inoculated.
Yet it seems disinclined to believe this success and is instead determined to build on its worst failures. Every report into the £37 billion test and trace system has concluded that it has been a massive waste of money. It has failed to pick up cases, test them and process the results in time; it has failed to identify and track down contacts; and it has failed to persuade those contacts to self-isolate. True, requiring a negative Covid test before you can travel or go to the pub will get round the problem of persuading people to take one. But without a system of tracing and enforcement, don’t expect much compliance with ongoing quarantine rules. That is without considering the problem of false positives.
Testing is expensive. It is also time consuming and unpleasant for the individuals involved. It is also likely to damage business. Sorry, but having to stick a swab down my throat before I can go to a concert is going to ruin the experience for me – I’d rather stay at home and watch something on YouTube.
What is not clear is what we stand to gain. The proportion of people refusing the vaccine is down in single figures – according to the Office of National Statistics, 90.2 per cent of the over-70s had already had the jab by March 11. We also know that the jabs are highly effective at conferring immunity. Once we reach a stage where the vaccine has been widely adopted and works well, the risk to others of any individual having Covid is not great enough to justify endless testing interfering in our lives.
A year ago, there was no guarantee that effective vaccines would be developed, and it might have made sense to try to develop a system of testing to prevent superspreader events and to drive down cases. To persist with it now is just a sop to the vested interests which have already raked in a fortune from manufacturing and running tests and stand to make even more if we are all forced to download health apps and get tested at every opportunity.