Covid: Boris Johnson's Operation Moonshot sounds more like moonshine so Scottish Government is right to be cautious – Ian Swanson

Experts say Boris Johnson’s plan for mass coronavirus testing is ‘fundamentally flawed’
Boris Johnson likes his projects, like the Operation Moonshot plan for mass coronavirus testing, to be 'world-beating'Boris Johnson likes his projects, like the Operation Moonshot plan for mass coronavirus testing, to be 'world-beating'
Boris Johnson likes his projects, like the Operation Moonshot plan for mass coronavirus testing, to be 'world-beating'

The rules have tightened again. No more than six people from two households can meet, indoors or out, anywhere in Scotland. And in many areas over in the west, any indoor visit to other households is banned.

With Covid cases rising across the UK, all four nations have taken similar measures. Most political leaders – and most of the public it seems – accept it is a sensible move to stop the virus getting out of control while efforts continue to find a vaccine.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The increase in cases was perhaps inevitable as schools reopened and other activities started up again.

But Boris Johnson, ever eager to get everything back to normal, has taken the resurgence as a cue for another of his “fantastic” projects.

Operation Moonshot is a £100 billion plan for mass testing which aims to achieve ten million Covid-19 tests a day by the spring and provide almost instant results.

Read More
Operation Moonshot: Boris Johnson’s coronavirus mass testing plan explained - an...

The plan includes DIY pregnancy-style test kits which give results in 15 minutes and “testing at the door” for large-scale events like football matches, theatre productions, concerts or conferences.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Prime Minister is said to believe it is “our only hope for avoiding a second national lockdown before a vaccine”.

The trouble is the existing testing system is currently struggling to cope with a much smaller number of tests, with stories of people being directed to test centres hundreds of miles from their homes.

And the technology to produce the new tests Mr Johnson wants does not yet exist.

Nicola Sturgeon said last week the Scottish Government is “hooked in” to talks on Operation Moonshot, but a leaked document revealed at the weekend that experts have advised her against rushing to support the plan.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at Edinburgh University, urged the Scottish Government to be cautious and sceptical and described the project as “pie in the sky”.

And Professor Stephen Reicher, of St Andrews University, who advises both the UK and Scottish Governments, said: “Quite frankly, Moonshot is a fantasy at the moment. It depends on testing technology that does not exist now.”

Instead Professor Reicher says the effort should be on “doing the simple things well” because that’s what will have most effect.

And there is scepticism about Mr Johnson’s plans at UK level too. One expert branded it “fundamentally flawed”. And another said: “These are plans from the world of management consultants and show complete ignorance of many essential basic principles of testing, public health, and screening. This is frankly dangerous.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Johnson likes everything he does to be “world-beating” and, sure enough, he said this project would mean testing “on a far bigger scale than any country has yet achieved”.

It is perhaps disturbing if success in this quest is the only hope of avoiding another full lockdown.

It is said the Scottish Government’s decision to get involved is simply to ensure Scotland does not miss out on a boost to testing capacity.

And it looks as if caution is the right approach.

Choosing to call it Operation Moonshot was presumably intended to reflect the ambitious and ground-breaking nature of the exercise.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But the experts’ comments suggest the likelihood is that Operation Moonshot will turn out to be moonshine.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive. We are now more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism.

Subscribe to the Edinburgh Evening News online and enjoy unlimited access to trusted, fact-checked news and sport from Edinburgh and the Lothians. Visit now to sign up.

By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.