Our test and isolate policy is flawed

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The chaos unleashed by self-isolation rules and a shortage of Covid tests appears to be steadily worsening. Train services have been disrupted, with some routes shut entirely until well into next year. Medical unions have warned that new pop-up Nightingale units may struggle to function, given that so many doctors and nurses are off work. The focus is often on “key workers” in the public sector, but swathes of the private sector will be suffering from a similar plight.

Now Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has said that Covid tests may need to be rationed over the next fortnight because supplies cannot keep up with surging demand. In a letter to MPs, Mr Javid said that access to tests will need to be prioritised to vulnerable groups, such as care residents and staff. The Government is planning to triple the number of lateral flow devices available in January and February next year.

That is all very well, but what does that mean for people being asked to isolate now, given that negative tests are used to escape the 10-day isolation period early? Will they be required to stay at home for longer, because the Government has been unable to will the means for them to show that they no longer have the virus?

Throughout the pandemic, ministers have too often failed to ask whether measures put in place to control Covid cause more harm than they prevent. Surely, the test and isolate policy is now an obvious example of one that is in need of urgent changes. To its credit, the Government has overseen a booster vaccination programme that can genuinely claim to be world-beating. Why is it squandering that advantage with a testing policy that is no longer fit for purpose?

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