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We are simply not testing enough people to mitigate the spread of coronavirus

NHS staff member tests other members of the NHS for Covid-19 at a drive-through facility at IKEA Wembley in London. | PA Images

3 min read

Without the detailed knowledge of exactly who has coronavirus, the job of targeting resources effectively becomes really difficult.

It’s really important that government succeeds in its mission to stamp out coronavirus and to do that we’re all going to have to work together. We’re living in an age of deep division and partisanship in our politics and society. But in the midst of a crisis of this magnitude division and tribalism will literally cost lives so there can be no place for it. But that’s a two-way street and when I gain insight into what needs to be done better then I use my position as best I possibly can to make it heard within government and get the changes we desperately need.

However, as the days have gone on and problems within the system are becoming more and more evident I have become increasingly vocal about where the government is getting it wrong. And on of the keys areas has been testing and the other is the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Right now there are two areas I have been relentlessly feeding back to government about the need for improvement. The first is about testing. We’re simply not testing enough people and without the detailed knowledge of exactly who has it, the job of targeting resources effectively becomes really difficult.

Unless the Government grasps the seriousness of this situation I fear the worst.

The response to an infectious disease outbreak has two phases: containment and mitigation. The containment phase happens early, when initial cases begin to appear. Public health workers tasked with surveillance do interviews to determine all the people an infected person might have come into contact with, to notify them and either isolate or treat them, in an effort to reduce further spread. But you can see where this is headed: without the ability to test whether people are infected, health workers can’t effectively wall off these networks.

To illustrate how far we need to go to get on top on this think about the scale of testing in South Korea: in total since this crisis began Britain has tested about 70,000 people for the virus and have been constrained by our ability to procure tests. By comparison South Korea produce 100,000 tests per day. Yes, per day. so far they have tested over 250,000 people and have managed to control the outbreak. They learned valuable lessons during the SARS outbreak and the UK should recognise this and follow their example.

I’ve also been focusing on getting all the equipment that frontline NHS and caring staff need to them without further delay because I have been inundated by emails, texts and calls from frontline staff and the worried families all saying the same thing. We do not have enough PPE.

Having spoken directly to numerous nurses, carers, doctors and plenty of others who care for vulnerable people in hospital and in our community and heard in harrowing detail about the lack of suitable equipment I can see that there absolutely will be deaths in care homes because of this. Care homes rely on agency staff and now we have the perfect storm: staff who have not been tested moving around care homes full of at-risk people.

I do not say this lightly - but unless the Government grasps the seriousness of this situation I fear the worst.


Peter Kyle is the Labour MP for Hove. 

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Connecting Communities

Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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