England’s test-and-trace system and other responses to coronavirus are now so good that the country could avoid a major resurgence in cases of the virus, as seen in countries such as France and Spain, Matt Hancock has predicted.
In an interview round to promote the government’s planned new trial of mass weekly testing on a population-wide level, Hancock argued that while he remained “very worried” about an upsurge in cases, the country was in a better position than some.
Asked how confident the public could be in the mass testing programme given the many hiccups in rolling out test and trace, Hancock defended its success.
“Let’s be clear, that’s going well,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “In other European countries we’re seeing this big second spike. Here, the cases are broadly flat, partly because of our test-and-trace system working so effectively, partly because of the quarantine and social distancing policies.”
France and Spain have recorded significant increases in cases of Covid-19 in recent weeks, with France experiencing what officials have called an “exponential” rise, with more than 7,000 new cases in one day.
European data currently shows France has a rolling 14-day total of just under 97 cases per 100,000 people, with Spain on 227, while the UK has recorded just over 25.3.
However, in the initial wave of the virus, the UK initially lagged several weeks behind much of continental Europe, before eventually recording one of the highest death rates.
Asked if the same pattern could be seen again, Hancock said: “We’re very worried about it, as I’ve said. But what I’m also saying to you is that we have the lines of defence in this country. Everybody has a part to play.”
The mass testing plan, which will be trialled in Salford, would use new, simpler tests which are claimed to provide a result in as little as 20 minutes, to check for infection in schools and colleges, as well as in the population as a whole.
Using the inside-government nickname for the idea of “the moon shot”, Hancock told Today that eventually tests could be self-administered, similar to pregnancy tests.
Unlike test and trace, which is aimed at suppressing the Covid infection rate, Hancock said, mass testing would be aimed at allowing more of a large-scale return to everyday life.
“If you test, and you test negative, you may catch the virus in a few days’ time, but we know that you’re negative now, and if you can get to the point where regular testing is possible, then you’re pretty confident that you don’t have it, and at the same time we do catch the positive cases,” he said.
“That allows people more freedom, and it allows us to have the confidence to be able to lift some of the social distancing measures and allow people to get back to normal, get back to the things they love, confident that they’re not spreading the virus.
“Short of vaccine this is the best chance we have of reducing social distancing while controlling the virus.”
Asked whether the public could be confident in this happening given delays over other interventions, such as the long-stalled test-and-trace phone app, Hancock said: “I’m not putting a date on this mass-testing rollout for precisely that reason.”
Source: The Guardian