The Daily Telegraph

This fi­asco dents pub­lic con­fi­dence

- England · Metropolitan Police Service

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?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK