Label Volunteer Ishaq Adams gives his thoughts on the COVID-19 Test and Trace system and its success (or otherwise)

Covid-19, also known as the disease that changed all our lives, came as a surprise to us all. Although this new strain of the novel Coronavirus was already circulating in late 2019, it was in early-to-mid 2020 that our lives were impacted.

On the 16th March 2020 Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care since 2018, announced all unnecessary social contact should cease. Following this, on the 23rd March 2020 Boris Johnson announced that people had to stay home and certain businesses had to close. While it had been argued that the lockdown should have been implemented weeks earlier amidst the shocking number of deaths seen in Europe, another important element of the fight against coronavirus was identified as testing and tracing.

Only a month after the lockdown began the UK Government began efforts to get a test and trace system up and running. This initially came via ‘contact tracing’ and community testing with over 20,000 new ‘tracer’ jobs created, and on the 7th May Baroness Dido Harding was controversially appointed to lead the contact tracing programme for England.

It is safe to say the deployment of this early form of test and trace was nothing short of a disaster, run worse than if my 5 year old nephew was employed instead of Dido Harding. On the 27th May 2020 the system was announced by Boris Johnson without a phone app, a baffling decision that even the most loyal conservative should have been able to see would end in failure. This manual form of test and trace has been questioned and critiqued by the opposition, the media and (I’m sure) every citizen of the U.K.

Just one example of the failure of this disastrous system saw 15,841 positive Covid-19 cases between September 25 and October 2 not uploaded to national statistics, nor passed to contact tracers. In addition to this, as if the government had not already shown their incompetence, it was revealed those who tested positive had been informed yet their close contacts were notified more than 10 days later in some cases, not the expected 48 hours.

The eventual arrival of the NHS Covid-19 app came with another government public health failure, as if compelled to provide us with a different screw-up each month. Apple and Google, two of the largest technology companies in the world and surely the go-to names of any member of the public, would seemingly have been the logical choice to collaborate with. Despite this, the U.K government spent a month between May and June insistent on developing their own app in conjunction with lesser known (than Google) American software company VMware only for it to be abandoned once its effectiveness was tested.

The much anticipated app that was touted as vital to the UK fight against Covid-19 did eventually arrive and, if you prefer to judge a book by its cover, you would have been impressed – a slick, easily downloadable app which was as easy to use as it was to download. Over 10 million had downloaded the app by the 27th of September 2020 with 6 million of those downloads occurring on the first day of release. Had the UK government finally got something right? Was the fight against Covid-19 beginning to take form?

As anyone reading this article or following the news could have predicted, the U.K Government messed this up too. Boris Johnson and his chief scientific adviser have admitted England’s £12bn test-and-trace system needs improvement considering:

  • Contact-tracing is at a new low
  • Waiting times for test results have doubled
  • And most shockingly less than 60% of close contacts are being reached.

How to summarise such a solemn article? I could perhaps articulate that the Labour party would have done little better, considering they didn’t even want to see our borders closed. I could also sympathise with the government and acknowledge that this is a once in a century crisis that took nearly every nation on earth by surprise. I could do many things to put an end to this article but as a Master’s student at a top university, it is impossible not to end with a damning verdict on Boris Johnson, Dido Harding and Matt Hancock for the horrific job the UK government has done with a vital part of the fight against Covid-19. If we are to use England’s test and trace system as a measuring stick as to how well we are fighting the virus, I think it is safe to say we will not be returning to Room One in the LSU anytime soon. More importantly, the economy will continue to suffer and more lives will be lost, while those who should be held accountable continue to pick up their wages despite so many of us losing ours.


Header by Frankie Stevens – Head of Design

Article edited by Connor Wade – Label Political Editor


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