As I write, the concerning news that cases of COVID19 in the UK are rising is still fresh. This is alarming and possibly disheartening, given how much change we have all had to endure to normal life from this pandemic. But it is not surprising as we cannot afford to be complacent against the threat this virus continues to pose.
The government last month introduced the new ‘rule of six’, to help stem the rising number of cases. I know the Prime Minister deeply regrets having to implement this restrictive measure, and I have heard from constituents how this will impact their lives, from social activities and family gatherings to business disruption. I can assure readers that this imposition is not lost on me. Having had to shield at home for several months earlier in the year, I am well aware of the difficulty of not seeing people in your community or extended family whom you like to meet to keep in touch. But unfortunately, it has proven necessary to take action to control the virus once more.
I hope that this broad measure, alongside localised lockdowns where there is a clear spike in cases, will avoid the need for any kind of national lockdown once again. I was impressed by the speed of response from Shropshire Council and local health bodies to spring into action when a spike in cases was reported at Craven Arms and Dorrington in recent weeks. So we know that quick and decisive action, combined with an increase in localised testing, can really help shutdown the spread of COVID19 in our communities.
On the issue of testing, I am well aware that increasing numbers of people have had problems in securing a test either at home or at one of the drive in centres. Demand for tests has increased very significantly during September, as those going back to school or work settings, or returning from holidays, have developed symptoms of COVID, or been exposed to someone showing symptoms, or the normal flu/cold/cough which starts to circulate each autumn. This is increasing demand for tests exponentially.
The situation is very fluid. I am aware of people in South Shropshire securing tests last month with only a few hours notice. There is a regional test site in Telford and 2 mobile units, which for some weeks have been based in Oswestry and Craven Arms, all operating at capacity each day last month, before the latter moved to Shrewsbury.
More testing capacity is being added each week, with more sites opening each week in September to take the total to over 400, with 500 testing sites due by the end of October across England. As I write in September laboratory testing capacity has reached 370,000 a day, higher per capita than in Germany, France or Spain. But it is clearly not enough to cope with the demand, so more testing laboratories are needed and the current plan is to get to 500,000 tests a day by the end of this month. I have called for the Government to plan for even more, so that testing does not have to be prioritised as it was during lockdown and is being again now.
Pilot projects for saliva based tests with rapid results were launched last month in Salford, Southampton and Hampshire. If these prove effective then there is the prospect for a vastly increased testing system which should remove the current capacity constraints of the present system which require analysis in laboratories.
I shall continue to engage with Shropshire public health leads and Health Ministers to secure sufficient accessible testing locally to meet the needs of local residents.
My advice to those seeking tests is to keep applying and consider seeking a home test which is despatched in the post.
It is clearly important to maintain social distancing and control measures like regular handwashing, if we are to keep on top of the virus once again this autumn.