People across Scotland have been tireless in their efforts to suppress this virus. I have no doubt that they will support the latest restrictions, and step up to the challenge, but alone this is not enough. We need our governments to step up too.
That’s why last week I called on the Scottish Government to redouble its efforts to ramp up capacity and introduce mass testing across Scotland. Until now, we have been largely dependent on the UK-wide testing programme, with most tests in Scotland being delivered by private labs commissioned by the UK Government, but in recent months the system has been overwhelmed. That’s meant that people suffering from Covid have been unable to get a test or sent hundreds of miles across the country to get one.
There is little sign that the Tory Government will resolve these issues any time soon, which means that to make progress, the Scottish Government must step up and take responsibility themselves.
From the beginning of this pandemic the World Health Organisation warned that to eliminate coronavirus countries would need to “test, test, test”. Sadly, the UK and Scottish Governments have paid lip service to this advice.
Since April I have been campaigning for testing to be expanded and for weekly testing to be given to those who are most at risk of infection, particularly frontline NHS staff and care workers. It took Ministers months to finally agree to weekly testing in care homes, even though the case for it was obvious, and though that is now in place, with over 30,000 care home staff getting a weekly test, it has not been rolled out to other groups who need it.
Meanwhile in England, universities and hospitals are increasingly going their own way and setting up labs to deliver weekly tests. Cambridge University, for example, can now test 16,000 staff and students a week.
We are in the second wave, and if we are to crunch the curve once again and then keep infections down, mass testing is essential. And it’s not beyond Scotland to do this ourselves. We have labs throughout the country that are underused and that can be repurposed, with experts advising that 100,000 tests a day would be possible.
I have written to the First Minister to propose that everything possible is done to scale up testing now so that weekly testing can be offered to frontline NHS staff, carers, teachers and school staff, and university staff and students. Weekly testing is a key means of reducing the spread of the virus and saving lives. On Thursday the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of these proposals. Now it’s over to the Scottish Government to deliver them.
Unless this is done, when these current restrictions end and hospitality reopens here in Edinburgh and across the Central Belt, what will have changed? While the public does its bit, the Government must use this time to roll out mass testing so that we can control and suppress the virus, because the only alternative is yet more lockdowns and economic turmoil.
Alison Johnstone is a Green MSP for Lothian region