The boss of the NHS Test and Trace service has said there is no “silver bullet” in the fight against COVID-19, warning that a return to “normal” life after the upcoming second lockdown was unlikely.
“I don’t think there is a single silver bullet,” Baroness Dido Harding, executive chair of Test and Trace, told the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference on Tuesday.
Harding said the fight against COVID-19 would continue to involve multiple interventions moving forward, including vaccines, local restrictions, mass testing, and the Test and Trace service.
“The prime minister called them on Saturday night the different rays of sunshine,” she sad. “Neither of them on their own are the sun but each of them are rays that should give us hope going forward. All of them require significant public and private collaboration to make them work.”
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Harding said the “first line of defence” against the virus was “hands, face and space,” the government’s guidance to the public.
“We’re not going to be able to move away from that,” Harding said. “We’ve got to get better at that.”
Test and Trace has been criticised for failing to reach reach enough people who have come into contact with the virus to tell them to isolate. A technical glitch at the start of the month meant 16,000 cases were missed out.
Critics say the UK’s return to lockdown is proof that Test and Trace has failed. GMB Union said this month that Harding should “consider her position” and said her time in charge was characterised by “blunder after blunder.”
Baroness Harding defended her position on Tuesday, saying she had stood up an organisation the size of Asda in five months and built the “largest outbound call centre in the UK.” Testing capacity has risen from 2,000 per day in March to 500,000 today.
However, she admitted that there as “clearly more than we need to do.” Harding promised a “big leap forward” in the service during the four week lockdown.
“Test and Trace will scale up and we’ll get faster and we’ll get smarter and we’ll get more united in our local and national partnerships,” she said. “We’ll get better and better.”
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