What about testing?

Inside an NHS hospital  (Jewish News)
Inside an NHS hospital (Jewish News)

More Jews have died from Coronavirus than they should have, as a percentage of the population. Many have died in care homes and their families and friends are, very naturally, intent on discovering if the deaths of their loved ones could have been avoided. It’s a very important and tragic question and what could possibly be a more sensitive subject. Nevertheless, as Westminster insists on making the topic a political football, the facts have got to be clearly stated.

It is a fact that there hadn’t been a pandemic for 100 years. There was no reason to expect at the end of 2019 that a new and devastating pandemic would kill over 3,000,000 people around the world in the next 18 months.

There was no vaccine for the new virus, no knowledge about how the virus spread, not enough protective clothing for all the people who would need it in a pandemic, and no ability to test all those who were going to be afflicted to see if they had recovered, before being sent back to Care Homes from hospital.

The government had to correct these shortcomings, often getting different advice from medical and scientific experts on the best way of dealing with the various situations. There was also no international unanimity. Furthermore it was essential for the NHS to be able to deal with new serious cases of coronavirus and that meant having enough vacant beds. Do you risk sending back to their Care Homes those who appear to have recovered, or be unable to treat new cases of the seriously ill?

Initially, it was also not known that people without any symptoms of coronavirus could still pass on the condition to others with disastrous results.

So Matt Hancock set out to correct the shortcomings. He knew that testing people to see if they had the condition was valuable information. The results of testing, however, initially, took 5 days and there was only the present capacity to test 1,000 people a day.. He announced that he aimed to get the ability to do 100,000 tests a day by April 1st 2020, so that everybody could be tested before going back to Care Homes.

Now only a total prat would believe this could be done immediately. If the existing Testing system could only handle 1,000 cases a day, how could they handle tens of thousands tomorrow morning. Matt Hancock’s stated  aim was for to achieve an increase to a hundred thousand a day by April 1st and even that looked ambitious, but he managed it.

We all know the magnificent effort which has seen the whole country on the way to being immunised. There is now sufficient protective clothing, but getting it took time as well. There was no magic wand available; Matt Hancock had to rely on organisations all over the country, on hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom would make mistakes because people do. There would be hot spots and errors through simple exhaustion.

There was also the crucial decision of the effect on the economy of lockdown versus the deaths of more people if we didn’t lock down. And would the decision be different if new information moved the goalposts.

The head of the NHS Test and Trace organisation is Dr. Jenny Harries. She says that only a very small number of deaths came from hospital cases being sent back to Care Homes. Far more came from the staff of Care Homes spreading the virus unknowingly. Dr. Harries ought to know.

Would you have done better than Matt Hancock? Would anybody?

There is one thing for Judaism to take pride in. It says in the 6th century Talmud that people with pandemic infections should be self-isolated.  The rabbis got that right 1,500 years ago.

With what we know now, we could do better in the future. But, as Omar Khayyam wrote in the 11th century “the moving finger writes and having writ, moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.”. That’s still a fact.

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book