Socialist Worker

Coronavirus cases soar after Tories’ new failures over testing

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2725

Boris Johnson and the Tories have failed to contain the spread of the virus

Boris Johnson and the Tories have failed to contain the spread of the virus (Pic: Flickr/Number 10)


Official cases of coronavirus in Britain shot up last weekend after a failure in the Tories’ test and trace system.

The chaos shows that the Tories have lost control of the virus. And it will add to the sense among growing numbers of people that the government cannot be trusted.

Some 22,961 cases were reported on Sunday, and 12,872 on Saturday. This follows days of between 6,000 and 7,000 daily cases.

A “glitch” meant that nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases went unreported between 25 September and 2 October. These were then added in at the weekend.

The error meant a delay in informing the contacts of people who tested positive for the virus, hindering attempts to contain it.

Figures

And it means that daily case figures for the end of last week were nearer 11,000 rather than the 7,000 reported.

Last week the government changed its advice on when people with symptoms should get a test. Initially the government website said, “You need to get the test done in the first five days of having symptoms.”

But on Friday this was changed to, “On day eight, you need to go to a test site.”

Coronavirus helpline workers say that tests taken after five days of someone first having symptoms will not be accurate.

The change follows disarray at test centres, with sites running out of tests and angry queues of people.

The Tories may want to delay the numbers of people coming forward for tests to ease the pressure on sites.

But this means that positive cases won’t be picked up—and that people with the virus will unwittingly spread it to others.

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Allyson Pollock from the Independent Sage group of scientists condemned the Tory failure to fund a proper testing system.

“The priority for the government should be to find symptomatic people early,” she said.

“The problem is, the government has created a centralised, ineffective, privatised testing and contact-tracing system.”

Former regional public health director John Ashton said testing after eight days was useless.

“The horses will have bolted, with more people becoming infected,” he said.

“This is out of the same playbook as downgrading the classification of the virus severity to justify less PPE.”

The Tories are putting our lives at risk because the measures needed to tackle the virus cost money.

Local lockdowns now cover a third of the population. But they are failing to stem the spread of the virus because they don’t tackle the main sites of transmission—workplaces, schools, colleges and universities.

The Tories want them open, regardless of whether they are safe, because they put profit over people’s lives.


The return to universities and schools drives up infection rates

Educational settings now account for 45 percent of all positive coronavirus cases in Britain, according to Public Health England (PHE)’s latest surveillance report.

Unsafe reopening of schools, colleges and universities has sent virus cases soaring.

The report, published last week, was based on data from 21 August to 27 September—called week 39.

“In week 39, there were 225 confirmed Covid-19 clusters or outbreaks in educational settings,” it said. “The highest number of Covid-19 confirmed clusters or outbreaks were reported through secondary schools.”

Report

Its previous report based on data from week 38—between 14 August and 20 September—showed a similar picture.

“The highest increases were noted in the number of incidents in educational and workplace settings,” it said.

Office for National Statistics figures suggest that around 30,000 school students are currently infected with the virus.

It’s estimated that more than 2,500 schools across Britain had seen an outbreak.

A survey by the Times Education Supplement found that half of the 7,582 teaching staff surveyed felt “drained and exhausted”. A third said they were “just about coping” while 15 percent were “physically and mentally on the brink”.

Head teachers say they don’t have the money to meet the extra costs associated with the virus. This includes increased cleaning and hiring supply teachers to replace staff who are isolating.

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President of the NAHT union Ruth Davies said the costs are “all having to be met from existing funds”.

She said the “unreliable” test and trace system leaves teachers self-isolating for longer while waiting for results. “Head teachers don’t know from one day to the next what level of staffing they are going to have,” she said.

The crisis is hitting the most vulnerable children the hardest. Nearly a fifth of students with special educational needs are not in school.

Gillian Doherty from the Send Action group said some disabled children “have not been permitted to return or have been put on part-time timetables”.

“Other children have had the provision they rely on to access education reduced or removed,” she said.

But disgracefully, resources are available for hated inspectorate Ofsted to restart inspections of schools from January.


Big rise in cases among health workers in London

Rates of coronavirus infection among hospital and care home workers in London have risen more than fivefold over the past month.

And scientists fear that similar rises may be taking place in other areas of Britain.

The figures came from the Francis Crick Institute, a leading biomedical research centre.

“It is very, very worrying,” said Professor Charles Swanton, who helped set up the institute’s testing service.

“Keeping hospitals and care homes free of the virus is crucial but these figures suggest we are heading in the wrong direction.”

In August, just under 0.1 percent of the daily tests carried out by the Institute were positive. By the end of September this had risen to 0.7 percent.

Dr Sam Barrell from the institute said this is “at least a fivefold increase”.

“It suggests that a higher rate of transmission may be occurring in hospitals and care homes than in the community in general,” she said.

Surprised

Swanton described how a senior clinician was surprised at his positive test result.

“He found it hard to believe because he wasn’t experiencing symptoms,” said Swanton.

“Nevertheless he went into quarantine and a few days later began to show clear signs that he had Covid.

“If we had not tested him and shown he was infectious, he would have spent several days spreading the virus inside his hospital.”

The findings show the importance of testing to contain the virus. Yet the Tories refuse to invest in a proper test and trace system.

This leaves many people spreading the virus unknowingly.


Eating out helped the virus

Boris Johnson has admitted that the Tories’ Eat Out to Help Out scheme “may have helped to spread the virus”.

The scheme saw the government subsidise meals eaten out on certain days throughout August to boost hospitality bosses’ profits.

Yet a Public Health England report published last week said, “Since 10 August, people who test positive are also asked about places they have been and activities they have done in the days before becoming unwell. Eating out was the most commonly reported activity in the 2-7 days prior to symptom onset.”

The report said that it can’t say for definite where people become infected. But it said the information “may be helpful to indicate possible places where transmission is happening”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the Sun “newspaper” that he had “no regrets” about the scheme.


New mothers at extra risk

The Tories’ failure to invest in health care means support is being snatched away from new mothers.

Health visitors are being forced to care for up to 2,400 families with newborn babies at once–ten times the recommended number.

Cheryll Adams from the Institute of Health Visiting said, “In the last five years we have seen the number of health visitors cut by 30 percent.”

There were 6,931 full time equivalent health visitors in England last year, compared to 10,309 in October 2015.

Adams said that mothers would be at “much greater risk” of mental illness and that infanticide figures could also rise.


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