Testing figures going in the wrong direction – and millions of jobs at risk next month

Sienna Rodgers
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The right-wing press are in uproar over the lack of airport testing, as the Daily Mail screams: “Boris, let’s get flying again!”. Heathrow has actually set up a testing facility, ready for it to replace the existing quarantine system, but the government has not made progress on the rapid testing front. That is despite more than 30 other countries, including Germany and France, having an airport testing system in place. The rest of the testing regime failures are more worrying: the latest weekly stats showed that under 70% of “close contacts” were reached and told to self-isolate, when we’ve been told that 80% is the level above which this process works. These figures are going in the wrong direction – and the performance gap between local public health teams and outsourced firms is growing.

Hardly “world-beating” and hardly a glowing endorsement of NHS Test and Trace head Dido Harding, the Tory peer who will be chairing the replacement for Public Health England. She has had to apologise because it was pointed out that people are being sent more than 100 miles away from their homes to get tested. Health experts are warning that the strategy of moving capacity around the country, giving more support to areas where Covid-19 cases are higher, is fundamentally flawed: it leads to people being sent far away and means new spikes are more difficult to identify early. We will constantly be playing catch up. This is not the situation that the UK wants to be in ahead of the usual winter NHS pressures and a potential second wave of coronavirus. And then there’s Brexit… and the jobs crisis.

The TUC has released a new report today that warns the government of a “tsunami of unemployment” once the job retention scheme ends next month. Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak so far have refused to take on board Labour’s suggestion of extending furlough in worst-hit sectors, instead going ahead with a pitiful plan to offer a ‘job retention bonus’ that will see employers given £1,000 for every furloughed worker they bring back. By the Chancellor’s own admission, there will be a “deadweight” cost to the scheme. The TUC is proposing an alternative: offering subsidies of up to 70%, which would have more conditions attached than furlough. It is clear that something bold needs to be done – millions of jobs are at risk.

On LabourList today, I’ve published a review of Left Out by Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire. The new book has revealed that Ian Murray, now in the shadow cabinet, was one of the ‘Independent Group’ quitters before pulling out at the last minute – what a week for that detail to emerge. For more, check out my piece. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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