Covid testing: Scotland should learn benefits of testing from South Korea as well as John Swinney – Scotsman comment
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has exhorted the public to follow his example and take a lateral-flow test for Covid on every day they go out to meet other people saying it “gives me confidence I’m protecting my household and it gives me confidence I’m protecting other people”.
It is an echo of a message issued by the World Health Organisation’s director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in March 2020, ten days before the UK lockdown.
He told the world: “You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected. We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test. Test every suspected case.”
Swinney’s request actually goes further than this, given he is asking people to test themselves even if they have no reason to think they have Covid.
But, given the example to the world of how Covid should have and could have been fought provided by South Korea, the benefits of comprehensive testing should be clear to all.
Since the pandemic began, South Korea has reported 3,893 coronavirus-related deaths out of a population of nearly 52 million.
This compares to the situation in Scotland, where Covid has been mentioned on the death certificates of 12,127 people as of yesterday, and the figure for the UK as a whole of more than 169,000.
Having learnt from its experience of handling Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), South Korea quickly adopted a test-and-trace approach that clearly saved countless lives.
So asking us to take individual responsibility for testing seems like a sensible thing to do, and it is surely better than the alternative of being forced to abide by edicts imposing collective restrictions on our freedoms.
But the need for a more widespread testing regime is likely to be just one of the lessons the Scottish and UK governments should learn from Covid, just as South Korea learned from Mers. And this is particularly true given warnings by experts such as Professor Sarah Gilbert, who helped create the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, that the next pandemic could be “more contagious, or more lethal, or both”.
And the best way to learn from past mistakes on Covid is to have independent inquiries at both Scottish and UK levels. These have been promised. The sooner they are delivered, the better.
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