On the UK Government’s new Test, Track & Trace scheme... and its limits.


First published in May 2020.


Say Jonathan works as a builder on a building site with 12 colleagues.

At the weekend, Jonathan and his wife Mary organise a BBQ (the PM said it is ok!) where they finally get to see his sister Sarah, her husband Mo and their two kids Daniel and Iain, for the first time since the beginning of the lockdown (no more than 6 people). Smiles. Laughs. Happy times!

Everyone is careful, wearing masks, and trying to social-distance as much as they can despite the size of the small garden (not exactly the 2-metre rule, but almost a metre apart). During the day, everyone touches the paper plates, pick the food from the small table, opens the fridge for more beers, juices and ice creams, and some also use the toilets (it is natural!).

The thing is, Sarah does not know it yet but she has contracted coronavirus at the school where she is a teaching assistant, in contact with the children of key workers.

On Tuesday, after having worked full time with colleagues on the building site for the past two days, Jonathan is contacted by the NHS Test, Track & Trace team and gets told that his sister, Mary, has tested positive to coronavirus, and so he (and his wife) must now self-isolate for the next 14 days, having attended the BBQ with her at the weekend.

Jonathan must now tell his boss that he must self-isolate because of the BBQ he organised in his garden after Boris Johnson decided to ease the lockdown measures.

Is Jonathan’s boss going to be OK with losing one of his builders for a period of 14 days? Will all of Jonathan’s colleagues have to self-isolate too since he went to work two days after the BBQ, spoke, had lunchs, had breaks, and work with them with little to no social distancing?

Therefore, the question is, can Jonathan’s boss afford potentially losing his entire team of builders, and close the building site for 14 days, or until they are back to work?

Government says employers must ensure any self-isolating employee is receiving sick pay and give them the option to use their paid leave days if they prefer. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is £95.85 per week.

Would Boris Johnson and his ministers live on £95.85 per week?... I disgress...

Even if Jonathan’s boss is ‘extremely’ understanding with the whole coronavirus situation, can he or any boss in the UK (after having suffered the weight of the lockdown on their business, the loss of income, extra loans...) now afford to lose staff without notice for a period of either 7 days if they test positive... or 14 days if they were only in contact with someone who tested positive, with staff potentially self-isolating again and again (every time they get contacted by the Track & Trace team), and again, for weeks or months, until the virus is defeated, or until there is a vaccine?

Instead, we know very well that is it more likely that Jonathan – and his colleagues – will eventually decide that the actual risk of having the virus and/or spreading it at work or in the community is worth taking because they just cannot afford to live on £95.85 per week, or worse... to lose their job, simply because they should self-isolate.

Matt Hancock can tell us that it is our public duty to self-isolate if contacted by the NHS Test, Track & Trace team all that he wants... Boris Johnson can tell us it is a “price” the “small minority” will have to pay for the “eventual liberation” of the country...

But is it, really? Is it?🔷


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[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 30 May 2020. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: WallpaperFlare.com.)



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