Covid: Scotland must ‘test, test, test’ to avoid new lockdowns – leader comment

The increase in Covid testing capacity in Scotland is welcome but the Scottish Government must be sure it is enough as flu season looms.

The World Health Organisation urged countries to increase testing capacity as early as February (Picture: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In February, when Covid-19 perhaps seemed like a distant threat, the World Health Organisation urged countries to immediately increase their capacity to test for the virus.

The following month, the WHO’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, felt the need to bluntly reiterate this advice: “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test. Test every suspected case.”

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Along with the rest of the UK, Scotland conspicuously failed to follow this advice and has paid the price in the number of infections and deaths. It was not until July – five months after the WHO issued its advice – that there were more than 10,000 tests a day in Scotland.

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The numbers have continued to rise, with an average of about 14,000 tests a day currently being carried out, and now Nicola Sturgeon has announced that 11 new walk-through testing centres will be set up across the country along with three mobile ones.

This is a welcome, if belated, step to improve our current rather fragile testing system – having to tell people seeking a test to travel outside of Scotland hardly inspires confidence that capacity is what it should be.

However this comes at a time when the weather is turning and the flu season is approaching. Many more people will find themselves displaying symptoms that may or may not be Covid and, quite understandably and sensibly, will want to find out what it is. The Scottish Government needs to make sure the extra capacity will be enough to meet the extra demand.

The benefits of mass testing are clear. Without it, Scotland was forced into a national lockdown that has devastated our economy, but there was little other alternative if the spread of the disease was to be contained. There are still some national restrictions and local lockdowns are being enforced in places like Aberdeen to respond to fresh outbreaks.

Mass testing and contact tracing should mean the need for such blanket restrictions is dramatically reduced with only those who actually have the disease or who have potentially been exposed to it subject to controls. This should be a particularly effective strategy given the reduction in the number of cases. We cannot afford to let Covid return, another lockdown would be devastating. Instead we must fully embrace the WHO’s original strategy and “test, test, test”.

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