Following in the footsteps of China and tiny Slovakia, the UK is embarking on its first “moonshot” mass-testing campaign in the city of Liverpool, known to most people outside the UK as the hometown of the Beatles. According to the Guardian, up to half a million people in the city are set to be tested this week, and if the system proves successful, it will be used again.
With the self-isolation period for those who test positive set to be reduced, up to half a million people are due to be tested in Liverpool in the government’s first attempt at mass testing and tracing, with the goal of tracing the infection of every individual who tests positive during the drive.
The scheme is part of the government’s attempt to meet the demands posed by local officials, who have demanded more money for both test-and-trace programs, as well as more funding for the government’s furlough plan for workers.
To help carry out the program, the British army will be deployed for “logistical support”.
The operation’s success, or failure, could determine whether another similar mass-testing campaign in another one of the worst-hit areas in the UK.
PM Boris Johnson recently rolled out a system of coronavirus restrictions with three standalone tiers. Liverpool and Greater Manchester are both in the third tier, which imposes harsh restrictions that mirror the springtime lockdown, with the main difference being school is still in session.
A variety of test types will be employed during the campaign, which starts Friday, roughly a week after the new measures took effect. The testing campaign comes as Downing Street struggles to find a way to boost compliance with the new restrictions.
“Those who have been contacted need to self-isolate,” Johnson told MPs in the Commons on Wednesday. “We’ll be making a big, big push on that. Because, I must be candid with the house, alas the proportion of people who are self-isolating in response to the urges of NHS test and trace is not yet high enough.”
Though it’s a favorite of epidemiologists, contact tracing has largely failed in the West, as officials struggled with noncompliance in the US and Europe. In the UK, the government’s test-and-trace system has been a notable blemish for BoJo, despite pouring more than $15.5 billion into it. Perhaps BoJo has finally discovered ‘the secret’ for why these tactics were so effective in Asia: It’s much easier to test and trace when mandatory means mandatory.