Moonshot programme. The latest out-of-this-world plan being pitched by the Prime Minister to save the UK from the coronavirus pandemic. According to the British Medical Journal, leaked documents reveal that Boris Johnson believes it to be the “only hope for avoiding a second national lockdown before a vaccine”. The scheme includes a ‘mass population testing plan’ to deliver ten million tests each day, costing around £100bn. In his coronavirus update last night, the Prime Minister told the public that this plan would require a “giant collaborative effort” but he hoped the approach would be “widespread by the spring”.
The main problem, as pointed out by experts overnight, is that that the technology simply doesn’t exist. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been doing the media rounds this morning, and he had to admit as much. Moonshot involves creating a new sort of test, which would take between 20 and 90 minutes to get a result without having to send anything to a lab. Johnson himself also said last night that the government needs to work out how it can source the materials to make the tests and how it will be distributed, as well as other “numerous logistical challenges”. Given that the Prime Minister is still yet to deliver on his “world-beating” test, trace and isolate programme, we can take this latest plan with a huge pinch of salt.
Last night’s briefing followed a spike in the number of Covid cases and a rise from 2.5 positive results per 100,000 people to 19.7. Johnson’s address was indicative of the groundwork the government is laying to make sure it can blame the public for a second wave or more lockdown. The Health Secretary has already begun blaming young people for spreading the virus, as we’ve seen higher numbers of Covid cases among this group – never mind the high number of young workers in the hospitality sector, now sent back to work. And this is a strategy that Johnson is determined to follow. Echoing Matt Hancock earlier in the week, the Prime Minister blamed the huge problems seen with the unavailability of tests on the public requesting too many – rather than admitting, as the director of NHS test and trace has, that there is a problem with processing at laboratories.
Keir Starmer yesterday took Johnson to task over the failings of the government’s testing regime in the latest session of Prime Minister’s Questions. Sidestepping the Brexit row, he chose to focus on the abundant problems with the government’s test and trace programme. The Labour leader highlighted that while people are being sent hundreds of miles for tests, 75,000 go unused every day. Elsewhere, Labour representatives from across the regions and nations of the UK have come together and formed a new ‘Alliance for Full Employment’ backed by former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Anticipating a major jobs crisis as the furlough scheme ends the group, including the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and the mayors of Liverpool and Manchester among others, is promoting economic recovery policies to prevent redundancies and unemployment. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.