Covid testing system is broken. Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon need to stop bickering and fix it – Ian Murray MP

The Conservative and SNP governments need to work together to ensure people can get tested for coronavirus, writes Ian Murray MP.
Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson need to work together to fix Covid testing system (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson need to work together to fix Covid testing system (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson need to work together to fix Covid testing system (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

THE coronavirus testing scheme across the UK and in Scotland is in utter chaos.

Local shortages have left people struggling to secure online bookings and being redirected to sites hundreds of miles from their homes – sometimes even as far as Barnard Castle!

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People in London are having to input postcodes for rural addresses in Scotland to get around the system and vice versa, making a mockery of how it should work.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner skewered Boris Johnson on the chaos in the Commons yesterday, and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has warned that time is running out to regain control before the winter.

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What’s so galling about this shambles is that the requirement for a functioning testing system has been clear from the very start of the pandemic.

The World Health Organisation had one instruction for governments: “Test, test, test.”

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The UK Government promised a world-beating system; it has catastrophically failed to meet that pledge.

When testing breaks down we lose public confidence and our ability to control the virus.

Boris Johnson boasted yesterday that “89 per cent” of in-person tests are returned within 24 hours, yet he promised that figure would be 100 per cent by last July.

Without urgent action, we risk a crisis which will have the biggest impact again on schools and care homes.

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It will also have a disproportionate impact on the low-paid, with many unable to self-isolate because of lack of access to statutory sick pay. It’s isolate or earn for too many.

There’s a clear need to prioritise testing for key workers, such as teachers and carers.

One of the problems throughout this saga has been governments’ spin, which has seen repeat references to testing ‘capacity’ rather than the actual number of tests taken.

The UK Government has a current reported capacity of 375,000 but in recent days was only carrying out around 230,000 tests per day.

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And the SNP Government in Scotland has copied Boris Johnson’s desperate attempts to play with language.

On Monday this week, in Scotland there was unused capacity of over 17,000 tests alone.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney used this tactic during an appearance on BBC Question Time, in which he even claimed that the right measure was ‘capacity’ not tests taken and that care home staff were being tested on a regular basis.

Utter nonsense – he would have known that Scotland has endured one of the worst testing rates in the world and he would also have known many care residents and staff were not being tested at all, let alone regularly.

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And if it wasn’t for the fact that UK labs conducted the vast majority of the tests in Scotland, it could have been far worse. The current crisis now needs urgent UK Government action, but Nicola Sturgeon should also reflect on her own Government’s disastrous failings first.

What needs to happen is more community-based testing.

As far back as May, the Labour Party said “before a vaccine is widely available, the only route out of lockdown will be through a comprehensive, community-based system of testing and tracing”.

We were right then and more so now.

I believe there should be more testing centres at schools, universities, GPs and even workplaces before we end up in a situation where the economy gets shut down again and education is disrupted for tens of thousands of children.

The Scottish Government should also introduce a comprehensive and quick system for testing arriving air passengers.

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There are solutions but both governments must work together to make them happen rather than the tiresome bickering blame game and buck-passing that won’t produce a solitary extra test.

In these challenging times for everyone, the solution is clear: fix the testing system.

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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