England faces a bleak winter unless it gets a grip on test and trace | Anthony Costello

The government had months to prepare for a second wave – but its testing system is still in disarray

After a summer of social gatherings, “eat out to help out” and urging commuters to “get back to the office”, the government appears to be losing control of the pandemic. Almost 3,000 new cases were reported in the UK over the weekend and hundreds of pupils have gone into isolation after cases were discovered at more than 90 schools. Gatherings of more than six people will now be banned in England from Monday in an attempt to curb this rise in case numbers. But although the government is right to tighten social distancing, this alone won’t solve the problem of rising cases. To do that, it urgently needs to restructure England’s failed test and trace programme.

In truth, England’s test and trace programme has always been half-hearted. It was supposed to be “world beating”, but now appears more like a national disgrace. On 12 March the government stopped community testing altogether on the advice of its scientists and medics. By then, South Korea had already mobilised its pharmaceutical and state laboratories to scale up mass testing. In Wuhan, where the Covid-19 pandemic originated, authorities deployed 9,000 community health workers and volunteers to find cases, trace contacts and ensure their isolation among the 11 million residents, a ratio of one worker per 1,220 people.

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