Minister admits that failures in coronavirus testing capacity led to more deaths

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Fewer Britons would have died from coronavirus if more tests had been available earlier, a cabinet minister has admitted. He also warned life would not return to “business as usual” when Boris Johnson sets out his exit strategy.

Decisions

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said “many things” could have been different if the UK’s testing capacity was above 100,000 before coronavirus (Covid-19) spread in the country. More than 28,000 people have now died after testing positive for the virus in the UK.

Shapps also confirmed the NHSX contact tracing app – which he said would need 50%-60% of people to use for it to be successful – will be trialled on the Isle of Wight this week before being rolled out later this month.

The app will be central to the government’s efforts in slowing the spread of coronavirus and will involve alerting people who have been in contact with an infected person and asking them to self-isolate. This app is already proving controversial, however, as The Canary’s Tom Coburg reported:

The NHS has opted for a version of the coronavirus (Covid-19) track and trace app that reportedly has in-built security flaws that could seriously impinge upon personal privacy. It’s also understood that the spy agency GCHQ has a hand in its development.

Marr

In an interview with BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Shapps was asked whether fewer people would have died if testing capacity had been greater sooner. The minister replied:

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Yes. If we had had 100,000 test capacity before this thing started and the knowledge that we now have retrospectively, I’m sure many things could be different. The fact of the matter is this is not a country that had – although we’re very big in pharmaceuticals as a country – we’re not a country that had very large test capacity.

He also revealed that he was “actively looking at” quarantining people travelling to Britain from abroad to keep coronavirus infection rates under control.

HEALTH Coronavirus
Coronavirus-related deaths in hospitals in England (PA Graphics)

Exit Strategy

The prime minister has pledged to set out a “comprehensive plan” on how the current lockdown may be eased on 7 May, when the government must legally review the measures. Shapps cautioned that life would not return to how it was in February, before the social distancing measures were introduced.

He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday:

I don’t think we should expect us to go from this situation that we have at the moment of social distancing back to where we were in February – that’s clearly not going to happen and I don’t think anyone imagines that for one moment.

The most important thing is that the absolute focus of what the prime minister will be announcing later in the week is that what we do do going forward doesn’t undo the brilliant work people have been doing to get that R number below 1 – the all-critical reproduction rate doesn’t come back up because that’s when we’d see a second spike.

Shapps also said:

So, no, I’m afraid it is definitely not going to be business as usual but we do want to make sure that people understand where the routemap lies.

Meanwhile:

Former government chief scientific adviser Sir David King has assembled a group of experts to look at how the UK could work its way out of the lockdown in response to concerns over the “lack of transparency” coming from the Sage group of advisers.

Conservative peer and former minister Baroness Ros Altmann said a requirement for older people to remain in lockdown longer as restrictions are lifted for the rest of the country would be “age discrimination”.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid-19, said all countries must remain “on alert” over the possibility of further transmission of coronavirus.

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