The Daily Telegraph

Tracing the truth


At the heart of the Prime Minister’s plan to return the country to some semblance of normality is an effective test and trace system. Huge efforts have been poured into making it operationa­l, with the number of tests conducted up substantia­lly since the start of the pandemic. The developmen­t of this programme has exposed major deficienci­es in the British state, not least Public Health England’s (PHE) aversion to working with the private sector. But the hope is that the country will be able to test rapidly for Covid cases, contact those who have been exposed, and isolate them so that the rest of us can get on with our lives.

It remains an abiding scandal, however, that the original test, trace, isolate strategy was abandoned in March on the recommenda­tion of the Sage committee. Yesterday, at the Commons health select committee, the chief medical officer Chris Whitty maintained that it was the correct decision, given capacity constraint­s at the time. In a heated exchange with Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, he said that whether or not it was a good idea was a second order question. The important issue was that the system was struggling and new capacity could not be switched on overnight.

This is an unsatisfac­tory answer, to say the least. If the system was struggling to function, why was the advice not to throw everything into making it work? It also smacks of an attempt to rewrite history. Minutes from Sage meetings and comments by other scientific advisers in February and March suggest that, instead, contact tracing was not viewed as a useful mechanism for dealing with a pandemic. We trust the truth of the matter will be dealt with in the public inquiry.

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