Now that vaccines are being delivered at an amazing rate across the UK, and around 2.8 million doses have been given to date, it’s easy to believe that the light at the end of the tunnel is here in the global fight against coronavirus.
Ideally it is. The best scenario is that the vaccine will quickly protect those who need it while reducing the transmission of the virus in the population.
It would be even better if the vaccine offered permanent immunity, as opposed to people who need to be vaccinated regularly (which is a health risk and a huge logistical challenge, especially if the virus mutates and new vaccines are needed).
While we are figuring out these details – and we should have some answers over the next few months – there has been less talk of NHS Test and Trace and bulk testing, the systems the government has spent huge sums on to keep the virus at bay while there is no vaccine there.
Paradoxically, with the start of the vaccine launch, NHS Test and Trace has become stricter and has changed its definition of “close contact“So that users need to keep track of more details about who they were within two meters.
Not least because the system with a Record 493,573 contacts identified over the weekend December 30th – up from 407,685 the previous week. In short, this will lead to an increase in the number of people who have to self-isolate.
The government also devotes enormous resources to mass testing. Matt Hancock announced a program of lateral flow devices to detect asymptomatic cases on Sunday morning.
A total of 317 English local authorities will be able to deliver this, using the army Bolton to help next week. Pilot projects are also run by companies such as John Lewis and others in manufacturing, retailing, and the food industry.
While these systems are not perfect – there are still many criticisms of their capabilities – the point is that despite the vaccine hailed as our exit option, they are being developed and improved. Why is that?
The first explanation is simply that the government currently needs every possible resource to fight the mutated variant of the coronavirus. Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, has warned that we are going into the worst weeks of the NHS. No wonder we are preparing several systems.
Then there are more depressing long-term considerations, such as whether the vaccine will get into trouble. Maybe immunity doesn’t last as long as we imagined, or a new strain of virus is added that doesn’t have a vaccine yet, and so on. This is when Plan B, C, D, E and a whole alphabet of other options are crucial.
Worse still, there could be another pandemic in the future. So the government can better justify spending staggering sums on this infrastructure, for which we can be thankful later.
The difficulty with all of this is that, unlike in the past, the government had to set up testing infrastructure while we are in a pandemic. Hence, it discovered bugs in its systems in the worst possible way, possibly part of why Test and Trace did this cost £ 22 billion.
No doubt at some point there will be questions as to why – along with many other governments – There was a lack of willingness in this area, unlike South Korea and Taiwan, which had contact tracing. Yes, they built their systems in response to MERS and SARS, respectively, but there was evidence from the international community that this infrastructure should be considered.
In any case, the focus on testing won’t go away anytime soon.