Steve Darling: Five steps to defeat the virus

We need a robust, locally-led test and trace system

We need a robust, locally-led test and trace system - Credit: Archant

With the World Health Organisation saying effective contact tracing must be at the heart of any successful response to the coronavirus pandemic, it is shocking that our Government continues to fail to address the crucial issue of our failing test and trace system that underpins our fight against the pandemic; delays and poor performance of this Government system is aiding and abetting this virus spreading within Torbay.

Every day that infected residents go about their business without being aware of them being a spreader of the virus only results in more and more infections.

Reports last week showed that England’s test and trace system needs to improve to provide faster results, Boris Johnson has admitted.

Latest figures also showed a fall to 59.6 per cent in the proportion of close contacts reached of people who tested positive - the lowest weekly percentage since the system began earlier this summer and is down from 63 per cent in the previous week.

The Department for Health has taken down a job advert for a director of operations for the system to turn around ‘failing call centres’, saying it needs to be redrafted.

To me and fellow Liberal Democrats, our country needs five clear objectives for this virus to be vanquished.

Here are our thoughts:

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1 Fix test, trace and isolate

This must be the Government’s top priority. Every possible resource should be thrown at creating a robust, locally-led test and trace system which ensures everyone with symptoms can get a test and receive their results within 24 hours.

Tracing should be led by local authorities and people should be given support and incentives to isolate, not the threat of a £10,000 fine.

Frontline NHS staff should have access to regular testing.

2 Extend furlough and self-employed support to save jobs

It is disgraceful that the Chancellor has written off whole sectors of our economy.

While borrowing costs next to nothing, the Chancellor is choosing to leave workers in hospitality, tourism, the arts and other sectors without a salary. This is a heartless political choice.

He must expand furlough support urgently until June 2021.

3 Protect people living and working in care

Vulnerable people living in care were appallingly let down in the first weeks of this crisis.

Government must guarantee that as hospital admissions rise, all discharges from hospitals into care homes will take place only following a negative Covid test.

Staff and residents must be able to access regular testing, with results within 24 hours, and the same must apply to people being supported to live independently, as well as residents of care homes.

To reduce isolation and loneliness, care home residents should be able to nominate at least one loved one who would be given regular testing, in order that they could visit them.

4 Support children and young people

Young people will still face huge disruption to their education this year, whether because of further lockdowns, or because they have to self-isolate.

Government must do everything it can to support schools to stay open in a Covid-secure way, while also ensuring they have the resources and skills to provide online learning.

This means getting laptops and internet access to pupils from low-income households.

They must also extend free school meals and food vouchers to ensure every child in poverty can access them - even when schools are closed.

They must provide certainty about how exams will run next year, in all likely scenarios.

They must reach a fair deal for first-year university students who are being charged for accommodation they do not want to use, and ensure that everyone who wants to get home to their families between now and Christmas, is able to do so.

5 Establish a public inquiry into the handling of the crisis

We need an independent, public inquiry, into how this has gone so badly wrong, starting as soon as possible.