'Glacial and ungracious' change to a more local track, trace and isolate programme

By Paul Wheeler | 30 August 2020
  • Paul Wheeler

It’s Monday morning and you’re just about to go to work. You receive a call from a complete stranger. Apparently, someone in the bar you were in last week has identified himself as COVID-positive. No-one is really sure at the moment what’s going on, but you have to isolate in your house for two weeks. No, you can’t go to work and have no idea if you will be paid or not. You are on your own: goodbye

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, you receive a call from your local GP. There has been a case of COVID-19 identified in a nearby bar. All those present there are being tested and later today someone from the local council will call with a testing kit for you and your family and you will get the result in 24 hours. It will be a tough time for everyone, but help is available.

Now, guess where the bulk of our £10bn test and trace budget has been invested so far...

We have the grotesque spectacle of a spatchcock national track and trace strategy administered by remote and costly private organisations struggling to match phone numbers to names. As more than one distinguished scientist said: ‘Never mind world beating, can we have a policy that is just virus beating?’

The change to a more local and more effective track, trace and isolate programme has been glacial and ungracious. While in the depth of summer the Government finally recognised its strategy was hopelessly ineffective we still have 12,000 Serco sleepers chasing an average of one phone call a month.

That money would be far better spent on a jury-style lost earnings payment for those who are told to self-isolate for the good of the local community. It’s a similar form of public service to jury service.

Currently, we are expecting many of the lowest paid – often without the ability to work from home – to sacrifice their income without any form of compensation or recognition. In a rare example of Government joined-up working let’s get the Ministry of Justice with its relevant expertise and systems (and quite a bit of time on its hands) to administer it.

The virus is still out there and the winter months may well be the worse. Let’s hope the Government gets its act together in time.

Now remind me, where is that world-beating app?

Paul Wheeler is director of the Political Skills Forum and writes on local politics

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