Wednesday, 3 February 2021

The weakest link


Not for the first time, the First Ministers of both Wales and Scotland have made it clear that they are unhappy with the prevarication, delay and half measures being introduced by the UK government to control borders in order to reduce the spread of Covid. Wales hasn’t yet gone as far as Scotland in introducing additional quarantine measures. But hopefully the Welsh Government will do so shortly.

The UK government is right to stress the dangers of new variants, and the need to introduce door-to-door testing in certain areas underlines the problem, but it also highlights how and why the UK is getting it so wrong. The time to introduce controls isn’t when the first cases start being identified in the UK, or even when they first start being identified in the country where the mutation arises – both of those are already too late. The time to act on a new variant is before that variant is even identified. Quarantine is as important for those countries where no new variants have yet been identified as it is for those where one has, and it is exactly that point which the Scottish government, at least, is recognising. Not all countries are doing enough testing to even know whether there are new variants. Variants have been found in South Africa and Brazil as a result of genomic testing being carried out. But how much genomic testing is being conducted in an underdeveloped country such as the US where there is no proper public health service and conducting testing means that either profit-oriented hospitals or profit-oriented health insurance companies would have to pay for what they would view as unnecessary extra testing? The chances that there are no unidentified variants in the US, given the size of the outbreak there and the lack of any serious attempt to control it by the previous administration, must be close to zero. Lack of identified variants doesn’t make visitors from countries such as the US ‘safe’, yet that seems to be the working assumption of the English government. Waiting until a variant is not only identified but has actually reached these shores before acting is a recipe for forever playing catch-up. And failing.

Until such time as the vaccination programme has reached a sufficiently large percentage of the population, and there is a high level of certainty about the extent of protection it offers, we need the sort of comprehensive travel controls which the Scottish government is trying to introduce but which the English government has consistently failed to introduce. And even after announcing that partial quarantine will be introduced, nothing has yet been implemented, despite them having had months to prepare. Sadly, unless the English government changes its position (which looks unlikely, to say the least) the policies being introduced in Scotland (and any attempt to emulate them in Wales) can only ever be partially successful at best. Once again, the pandemic has revealed that the English government is the weakest link, and is directly harming the other parts of the UK by its inaction.

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