Ministers have finally revealed a long-demanded “exit strategy” from the coronavirus lockdown with a plan to recruit an army of 18,000 people to trace and isolate infected people – allowing restrictions to be eased, they hope.

Five weeks after the World Health Organisation urged all nations to “test, test, test” – a plea rejected by the UK at the time – it was announced that the mass contact tracing programme would begin “in a matter of weeks”.

Ministers have finally revealed a long-demanded “exit strategy” from the coronavirus lockdown with a plan to recruit an army of 18,000 people to trace and isolate infected people – allowing restrictions to be eased, they hope.

Five weeks after the World Health Organisation urged all nations to “test, test, test” – a plea rejected by the UK at the time – it was announced that the mass contact tracing programme would begin “in a matter of weeks”.

The move was greeted with relief by Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary and a leading voice demanding mass testing in the community, rather than simply in hospitals and of NHS and care workers.

* Essential workers, including supermarket workers, bus drivers and teachers, and their household members were told that, from tomorrow, they will be able book a test on the gov.uk website – potentially benefiting 10 million staff if the rest of the UK follows England.

* Continuing problems with the current testing programme were laid bare – with only 23,560 carried out on Wednesday, less than half the capacity of 51,000.

* London was described as “two or three weeks” ahead of other parts of the country – with Manchester and Liverpool now the focus of the pandemic, according to a Health Service Journal analysis.

* “New and better” blood tests were promised – not requiring the chemical reagents that have been in short supply.

He sought to deflect criticism of delay, arguing he had had to wait until the pandemic had peaked, saying: “Critically, test, track and trace works more effectively when the rate of new cases is lower.

“So, the lower the rate of new cases, the more effectively you can keep it down using test, track and trace rather than having to use heavier social-distancing measures.”

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, criticised “confusion” at the heart of government, pointing out the deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries, had dismissed the idea only days ago.

And he said Mr Hancock had to be held to his original pledge, saying: “We were promised 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month. Not testing capacity at 100,000.

“We’re still not carrying out the numbers of tests we need to. In particular we should be doing so much more to test care workers. They shouldn’t have to travel miles for a test.

TLAChairman
Author: TLAChairman