The Daily Telegraph
This fiasco dents public confidence
The technical problem that led to some 16,000 positive Covid tests being missed out of the daily case figures in England is the latest setback to the Government’s much-vaunted tracking system. The glitch seems to have been caused by a design failure whereby the computer files could not cope with the numbers they were required to process. As a result, people who were positive were told, but many thousands who might have been in contact with them were not traced, and required to isolate, for days.
This episode, while embarrassing for the Government, does not alter the bigger picture of a rising number of coronavirus cases both here and elsewhere in Europe, though without the pace of acceleration seen earlier in the year and amid some evidence of a recent slowdown. Hospital admissions and fatalities are also lower as a proportion of total cases. Much of the increase is among young adults returning to university, with parts of northern England recording the highest increase. Students are likely to be infected only mildly, so the rise is only problematic if it feeds into more vulnerable groups.
The bigger problem is the impact that this has on public confidence in the data that governs our freedom. The restrictions on civil liberties, unprecedented in peacetime, can only be justified in the context of these figures. If they are not accurate, why should people accept at face value a state order that they cannot meet their own family?
The rationale behind mass testing is that it must be linked to a functioning tracing system, otherwise what is the point of it? Merely to find out that there are a lot of positive tests (albeit with many false readings) is of little use unless it is linked to a contact tracing and isolation process. This clearly failed, though Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, told the Commons that the issue was being rectified by systems upgrades. Few MPS were reassured, however, and the incident has fed into a general sense of a Government that is not fully in control.
Mr Hancock reaffirmed that the strategy was to continue with the current measures until a vaccine becomes available. Yet the timetable for this is uncertain, and the head of the vaccine programme has said most of the country would not get it anyway, a suggestion that Mr Hancock did not dispute when questioned in the Commons. On that basis, when will these controls ever end?