Often, when a government minister stands at the despatch box, what they are speaking about can be classed as a “bubble” issue – one that is important but is generally of little interest to your average voter.
Like the problems with exams grading this summer, that is not something that can be said about Covid-19 testing, with criticism of government handling of this issue escalating.
My own experience of testing is actually fairly positive. Not the test itself – that wasn’t particularly pleasant – but I found it easy to book an appointment and the process itself was efficient.
However, this has not been the experience of many, as has been widely reported this week. In Bolton, more than 100 people turned up at a local A&E asking for tests after being unable to secure one through the national system.
There have also been reports of people being asked to travel hundreds of miles for a test.
In his appearance before the Commons Liaison Committee yesterday, the prime minister acknowledged public frustrations and admitted that the UK’s testing capacity currently “has huge problems”.
Increasing testing capacity, and ensuring quick and accurate results, will be key if we are to balance the needs of public health and the economy, particularly as we hit the autumn and winter months.
The British Chambers of Commerce has expressed fears that the absence of a comprehensive test and trace programme could “cripple businesses” (£). These concerns have been echoed by the Confederation of British Industry and Federation of Small Businesses.
Which is why a story in today’s edition of The Telegraph (£) is so concerning. According to the report, the UK government is considering a prioritisation list for testing, with the result that large sections of the public could be refused a test.
At the moment, if you are showing symptoms of Covid-19 – a new continuous cough, a high temperature, or loss of taste or smell – you are being asked to book in for a test and self-isolate until the result comes back. Of course, these are all symptoms which could just as easily be due to a cold or flu.
If people cannot get tests to confirm whether they have Covid-19, many households are potentially needlessly self-isolating. It goes without saying that people should be at home resting if they are unwell regardless of the illness. However, the 10-day isolation period for Covid-19 is significantly longer than would be required for your standard cold.
That means fewer people at work, children absent from school, and consumers not in shops and restaurants. It’s particularly unsustainable for people who would need to miss work and receive only statutory sick pay – £95.85 per week, as opposed to the average UK weekly salary of £512.
This is one that that the government simply has to get right.