Millions more hemmed in. More restrictions looming, maybe even a second national lockdown. With corona hospitalisations rising alarmingly, the dreaded second wave has arrived. And, as the testing system descends into chaos, our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports Boris-ex-journalist-Johnson is discovering the difference between a headline and a policy.
Back in May, the Prime Minister confidently claimed we’d have a ‘world-beating’ test, track and trace system within a fortnight.
This week genomics scientist and inventor Phil Robinson said, after being shown round the laboratories where it all happens: ‘Testing is dying on its arse.’
With curbs on people’s behaviour easing, and schools reopening, an upsurge of demand was predictable. Or should have been.
Doctor Robinson knows the answers to a lot of questions. But can’t figure out how the government can have cocked up so badly.
Verdict after his look-see? ‘I was appalled at what I saw.’
Though this outfit had had time to get its act together it was still using cumbersome techniques, was running out of staff and had failed to automate anything.
Little wonder reports abound of people either being shunted off to centres many miles away, or not being able to get tested at all.
Even the woman tasked with running the show, Dido Harding, says it’s not working. Fessing up to demand outstripping supply fourfold.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also, finally, come clean. Admitting that all the government’s really trying to do is hold back the tide till either testing works properly or a vaccine trundles down the track.
There’s even a radical rethink rumoured, as the penny finally drops that Whitehall isn’t very good at delivering anything genuinely end-to-end.
According to the Telegraph, the entire operation could be outsourced to a company that does just that. DHL. Or Amazon. Could really help, but it’s only talk, at this stage.
All a bit Wilkins Micawber, then. Something’s got to turn up. Sometime.
And something did. A new YouGov poll showing Labour level-pegging with the Tories, and public confidence in the government’s handling of the pandemic plummeting.
Cue blame game on. Ministers sniping at advisers, experts, even the punters.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg had the brass neck to suggest people should stop ‘carping’ about their difficulties getting checks.
Fishing for compliments, pardon the pun? Tough. Already derided as the Minister for the Eighteenth Century, he’s now widely seen as the Minister for Outer Space.
Those who remember the images of his lanky form lolling on the commons green benches bracket him alongside Bojo’s strap-on brain, Dominic (myopic) Cummings.
And those who remember one-time Labour Leader Ed Miliband liked his contribution to debate on the other debacle of the week. The government’s decision to put two fingers up to the rule of international law.
Johnson’s partially defused that row by promising parliament a say before actually breaking the terms of the Brexit deal he hammered out with the EU last year. Not that that does it for the Lords, hence the bunfight up corridor.
This thanks to the reputational damage that’s already done. In spelling it out in the commons, Miliband spoke for millions.
‘The Johnson defence means something very specific: there is one rule for the British public and another rule for this government. Pioneered by Cummings, implemented by Johnson—that is the Johnson rule.’
Pioneered by Cummings?’ Remember his up-yours-lockdown drive in the country? Testing his eyesight? Who can forget?
Certainly the British government’s insouciant attitude towards keeping its word won’t be forgotten in a hurry in Brussels. Or elsewhere.
It’s already poured a cup of cold sick over attempts to reach a trading settlement in time for the UK’s divorce absolute from the EU at the end of the year.
Hasn’t done much for our prospects of forming a nice little replacement deal with the USA either.
Joe Biden, Democratic contender in November’s presidential elections, is shoulder-to-shoulder with Trump’s lot in threatening no dice if Britain endangers the Good Friday agreement. Which the Irish government fears is the likely outcome.
Another fine mess? Looking like it’s headed that way at some point. While the corona confusion is all too here and now.
Try as it might to mask the reality, the government knows it can’t be done.
A bloke on on a bus from Swinton to Manchester tried using his pet serpent as a face covering. But the transport authority wasn’t buying it.
‘While there is a small degree of interpretation that can be applied to this, we do not believe it extends to the use of snakeskin – especially when still attached to the snake.’
Bullseye? Bojo? A quote widely attributed to Abraham Lincoln might work here.
‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.’
The sad thing being, help could be at hand.
According to a Chinese company that’s developed a new half-hour Covid-19 test, Bojo’s so-called ‘Moonshot’ programme for sorting everyone is not moonshine after all.
Sabrina Li, founder and chief executive of biotech firm Coyote, says: ‘If Boris Johnson calls me, I’d say; ‘Hi Boris, we are ready to help the UK.’
The company got the green light from the Chinese government nearly two months ago for its superfast kit, now being extensively used in hospitals and airports there.
Apparently the high-velocity version’s as sensitive and specific as slower tests. And Ms Lee says it could test a million Brits a day within a month.
A little month. Think of that. Dwindling hopes of better news to come any time soon could enjoy a renaissance.
Especially as all we’d need to do is buy the machines, which even a layman can operate.
They cost forty grand each, and are currently sold out, surprise surprise. Though the Chinese government’s doing all it can to up manufacturing capacity.
And here in UK a couple of the machines are being validated. So this is a space worth watching.
Likewise another rapid testing machine being checked out by Imperial College in London.
This ninety-minute number is already being used in eight NHS hospitals to quickly sort who has and who hasn’t got the virus.
And the government’s ordered five thousand of the shoebox-sized gizmos and millions of the little cartridges containing the necessary chemicals.
Ok, it has its drawbacks, like the machines only being able to process one test at a time, but every little helps, as the saying goes.
And there are crumbs of comfort for some, even in the new killjoy rule-of-six.
The point’s made this should not present a problem for the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru, or Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party.
They’ve only got four and two MP’s respectively. Do the sums. Not hard.
Also reasonable to assume Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven could work something out between themselves.
There’s further good news for anyone who enjoys the wholesale murder of certain birds.
Grouse shooting is exempt from the nasty new rule. Disappointing, doubtless for feathered friends, though in line with time-honoured tradition.
It’s said the government’s overall spending plans are signed off early August each year to free MP’s for the killing season’s start, the so-called ‘Glorious Twelfth’.
But the numbers game can be bad news for players of the Beautiful Game. As well as for grouse.
An amateur German football team, SG Ripdorf/Molzen II for the record, was being so thoroughly corona cautious that it only fielded seven players.
And the end-of-match score? Thirty-seven-nil. Oh dear.
Still, gave the winning side a chance to deploy that ever-so-German German word. Schadenfreude.
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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