PIERS MORGAN lashed out against Boris Johnson’s Government approach to the coronavirus crisis after one of its top scientific advisers was forced to admit to having mistakenly told the UK to drop the test, track and trace strategy in March.
Speaking on BBC Newsnight on Thursday, Director of the Wellcome Trust and SAGE member Jeremy Farrar admitted that “in retrospect it was” a mistake to drop the test, track and trace strategy in early March and change the UK’s policy towards tackling the coronavirus pandemic. The shocking admission sparked the fury of ITV host Piers Morgan who took to Twitter to share his outrage. He wrote: “So the expert scientists on whom the Govt is so slavishly relying now admit one of its key recommendations was a mistake. How many lives has this mistake cost?”
Mr Farrar claimed testing had been key for every country in the world in the fight against coronavirus but that without a contact tracing strategy the easing of lockdown measures should be done very carefully.
He told Newsnight: “I do not remember the truth about on the 12 March.
“Ive always insisted that Im transparent and Im being honest on SAGE and that testing has been absolutely critical for every country that has successfully so far controlled the epidemic.
“And as we go through this very vulnerable time, when R remains quite high, infection rates in this country remain high, we still have overlapping epidemics in communities, care homes, hospitals, that we must not lift the restrictions in any rapid way.
“Because if we do then the R number will go up and we will go back to exponential rates.
“The only way we can do that is to lift restrictions incredibly carefully and make sure that we got testing in place, isolation and contact tracing.”
He added: “We must learn the lesson of why this epidemic got out of control in February and March and we must not allow that mistake to be happening in May, June and July.”
It comes as Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted on Friday that the Government has failed to reach its recruitment target of contact tracers in the UK.
Mr Lewis admitted just 1,500 of the Government’s target of 18,000 contact tracers have been appointed.
Asked how many of the 18,000 contact tracers wanted have been appointed, Mr Lewis told Sky News: “I don’t think we’ve got to 18,000 just yet, I think there’s about 15,000 applications, we’re looking to as you say get up to 18,000.”
Pushed again on how many of the 15,000 applicants have been appointed, he added: “As of this morning I’m not sure of exactly how many of the 15,000 have been hired, earlier in the week it was about 1,500, it would have gone up since then.”
Labour has also sought answers over whether there will be enough contact tracers in place to allow the UK to ease its way out of the current lockdown.
In a letter to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, the opposition party has also called into question the reported hiring of private firm Serco to put in place the manual contact tracing team.
Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, told her opposite number Mr Gove there must be “transparency and accountability for the huge sums of taxpayers’ money” involved in the Government’s response to Covid-19.
She said Labour thought it a “mistake” to have stopped contact tracing in March and said it “supported” moves to establish a “comprehensive strategy for contact tracing both through the use of a suitable mobile phone app and a manual tracing service”.
But she questioned whether 18,000 contact tracers was enough to successfully carry out the task – seen as key to allowing the UK to lift the most stringent lockdown measures – when some experts had suggested “as many as 50,000 may be needed”, almost triple the number being hired by the Government.
Ministers hope contact tracing will reduce transmission by identifying and alerting people who may have been exposed to the virus, so that they can protect themselves and others around them by self-isolating.
Ms Reeves also asked about the reported hiring of Serco and the recent job offers that had been published.
“It is widely reported that the Government has awarded a contract to Serco to run call centres to provide manual contact tracing,” she said.
“It is my understanding from these reports that Serco has been asked to provide 18,000 staff, despite some public health professionals suggesting as many as that 50,000 staff are needed, and that these staff will be provided with just one day of training before starting work.
“Contact tracing is a skilled role, handling highly sensitive information, the consequences of which are profound both in terms of public health and the economy.
“Yet job advertisements for manual contact tracing staff are presented as a ‘work from home opportunity’, at an hourly rate of less than the living wage.
“Applicants are required to have their own computer access and it is not clear who their direct employer will be.”