“We have growing confidence that we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating and yes, it will be in place by June 1.”
These were the words of Boris Johnson, during PMQ’s on May 20 this year.
Four months have passed since the PM’s bold statement. Since then, more than 6,000 people across the country have died after testing positive for Covid-19 – taking the total death toll to more than 40,000.
In the last few weeks, reports have abounded of an acute shortage of local testing availability – leading to NHS staff shortages and the public facing lengthy delays. Huge backlogs of swabs have forced overstretched laboratories to send tests to Italy and Germany for processing, and people have described travelling hundreds of miles to get their children tested. Earlier this month the director of NHS Test and Trace issued an apology after people were unable to access tests.
The NHS Test and Trace service was launched in May, but evidence suggests contact tracing in the UK is not working – it’s getting worse and worse. Just last week figures showed 69.2% of “close contacts” are actually being reached, the lowest weekly percentage since the service first launched. Testing turnaround times are also well short of 100% within 24 hours target, while times for home testing and ‘satellite’ care home testing have once against fallen. On Wednesday, Johnson admitted to MPs at the Commons Liaison Committee that the situation was not “ideal”.
Others have also been swift to point out the glaring differences when arriving in other countries:
I've been lucky enough to travel a fair bit for work in recent months. The UK testing regime among the worst I've seen - only Iraq was worse, although Iraq also had longer lockdown and more masks. https://t.co/R5dEepUM1U— Louisa Loveluck (@leloveluck) September 17, 2020
So how does the system in the UK – which has the fifth-highest number of coronavirus deaths – compare? Perhaps surprisingly...