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  • Writer's pictureDan Heley

Where is Dido Harding hiding?

Matt Hancock is an odd character isn't he? One minute he's standing at the podium during a press conference staring down the camera and making it clear, with the authority that he has as Health Secretary, that we should believe no promises on when the third national lockdown might end, but before you know it he's suddenly gone quiet on the UK Test and Trace system which promised to be the envy of the world when it launched last summer.

Is it because, as reports suggest, the £22bn programme is under immense strain as it is being staffed by inexperienced call-centre telesales workers drafted in by private contractor Serco?

Or is it because Baroness Dido Harding, the head of Test and Trace, seems to have disappeared?

The last time we saw anything of her was last year in November when she appeared before Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee and its chairman Jeremy Hunt slammed her for the “three per cent success rate” of England’s contact tracing programme.

Hunt interrogated Harding to explain why only “three per cent of the total theoretical maximum” of people infected were self-isolating. I can answer that; because many of those, on low incomes, self-employed or with no access to government support will continue to go to work because they can’t afford not to. We all know the government has put in place financial provisions with the aim of keeping people at home, but the reality is that many people still aren't getting the help they need.

But dig a little deeper into the scandal and you find private consultants working for the NHS on the track and trace programme have been paid an average of £163,000, up to £7000 per day, amounting to a total of £375m. This for a system that has failed from the outset under Dido Harding's leadership of the project.

Since before Christmas, we’ve heard next to nothing about the system created by Weston-super-Mare's very own MP's wife or anyone else for that matter, except for a short burst from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson when he wanted to send the Army into schools to roll out mass testing, before being forced to undertake a u-turn, close schools, and become mute over the subject.

Instead, our focus has been shifted by the government to the roll-out of the vaccines. Most people won't get a sniff of a vaccine for months and nobody is really sure what the plan is until then, except continue to practice social distancing, wash your hands, use sanitiser and only leave the house for essential purposes until the Government tells you otherwise.

Like millions of other people, I’m left wondering how long will it be until any kind of normal life can be expected to return. Everything hangs in the balance. Everything hangs on the vaccine and its effectiveness in the long run. This worries me. I’m the kind of person who likes to have at least a Plan B, but in a situation like the one we all find ourselves in, a plan Z isn't really out of the question.

I'm a positive person generally speaking, but many of us, based on the governments woeful handling of the crisis so far (remember our borders aren't even closed almost 1 year later) are at least wondering what the next steps are if serious problems occur in the vaccine supply chain and/or its administration.

I’m no medical professional or scientist, but it seems to me that the vaccine programme and Test and Trace should run simultaneously. Or are we all to be confined to our homes until, as politicians keep telling us, “the jab goes in the arm”?

We were told we had a world-beating test and trace system, but it has completely failed to contain the virus and we are now in a deadly third surge with daily deaths currently averaging around 1000 per day.

It's at this stage you begin to look around you and think "why are we being so soft"?. In China, nearly five million people in provinces around Beijing have been ordered into a strict-seven day lockdown, in France a strict 6pm curfew has been announced for the whole country, and in New Zealand, where the country went into a firm lockdown at the beginning of the outbreak and closed its borders, in June last year life, returned to normal.

But here in the UK we have towns and cities with thousands of new cases every day, with seemingly still no effective means of organising a response that will get the virus under control other than vaccinating people as fast as we can and hope nothing goes wrong.

All whilst Dido Harding is failing the country with a system that never worked and her millionaire husband John Penrose MP is failing Weston by being part of a government that has screwed up its response to the pandemic time and time again, whilst not wanting to give adequate food to poor kids for good measure.

I want to end by asking you to consider two simple questions; "is this good enough for our town"? and "is this good enough for our country"? Because for me, the answer to both questions is a resounding "NO!"



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