Mass testing worked for football, now it can work for business - Beckie Hart

This week’s government pledge of mass coronavirus testing will have been music to the ears of businesses across the Yorkshire & Humber region – after all, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of such testing when it comes to easing lockdown restrictions and restoring public confidence and freedom.

Liverpool FC manager Jurgen Klopp

The issue has been a hot discussion point for weeks, and understandably so. We all know that regular, widespread testing can play a vital part in controlling the spread of Covid-19 and tackling flare-ups; that must continue to be the priority of any future strategy.

But we know too how much of a difference mass testing – indeed, ‘population-wide testing’ according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock – can bring to businesses in all sectors.

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The big question has been how to make this happen.

Testing site

The Premier League – with help from the University of Birmingham and industry experts – has proven during its Project Restart that widespread testing within a defined professional demographic can be conducted successfully.

Thousands of players and club officials have been repeatedly tested over the past two months, enabling games to restart in a safe, controlled environment.

The aim now must be to roll out the lessons learned – and businesses in Yorkshire & Humber can play a significant role.

The Government has already made great strides in building and ramping up testing capacity. And the UK’s world-leading life sciences and higher education sectors have already combined seamlessly to increase accuracy, capacity and scalability. The challenge now will be to further scale that capacity to the extent that routine testing can be conducted across the whole population.

Worker at testing site

Doing so will undoubtedly present an enormous challenge, but the rewards on offer mean it is an essential item on the UK’s recovery to-do list.

Comprehensive population testing, combined with swift results, will safeguard public health, while enabling businesses in Yorkshire & Humber to operate successfully without risking the wellbeing of their employees and customers.

Lockdowns can become more targeted and effective when needed. In other areas, confidence will increase. Activity and buoyancy will be able to return to the nation’s faltering high streets, offices and restaurants.

As the Institute for Global Change identified, businesses will have a vital part to play. From building flexible testing infrastructure to communicating with employees, and even in some cases to facilitating testing themselves, it is clear businesses can play a role in an ambitious testing regime which will help restore consumer confidence, accelerate the economic recovery and avoid a second wave.

There, of course, remains further hurdles for society to clear in addition to a testing increase before this crisis is past.

Finding a way of safely reopening schools is another key issue, as is addressing the issue of financial support for those responsibly isolating through local lockdowns, and tackling the issue of safe capacity in workplaces and on public transport.

And it is worth mentioning as well that a return to the old ‘normal’ is neither likely nor desirable, as new ways of working have revealed plenty of upsides and helped redefine ambitions as we look to build back better.

But last week’s economic data delivered a sobering reminder that there is not a moment to lose in protecting people’s lives and living standards in the face of this devastating global pandemic – and widespread routine testing can be a huge step towards that goal.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson