Stop promising the Moon and fix our virus testing system - Christa Ackroyd

Every day my four-year-old granddaughter Matilda shares her news.

Some people have found getting a covid test easier than others. Here a man swabs his mouth at an NHS Covid Testing facility in Bolton town centre (Getty Images).

On Monday it was about her new school uniform and how excited she was about seeing her friends again.

On Tuesday it was a video chat about her first day back in the classroom. “It was such fun, Nonna,” was her verdict. By Wednesday it was a very different tale. No school, no happy smiling face. “Guess what ,Nonna?” she said. “Today I had a Covid test and I cried”. Bless her. Her two-year-old sister Margot cried, too.

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It all started when Margot woke up in the night coughing continuously. A phone call to the doctor confirmed what we already knew, that the family needed to be tested for coronavirus.

If only it were that simple. For almost two hours my daughter tried online to book a test. The nearest available were in Leicester or Liverpool. She lives in Halifax, which incidentally should have been flagged up when she entered her postcode as having been in special measures.

She then tried ordering a home test. No kits available. She tried to book for Wallasey 70 miles away, only to be informed there were no slots for five days (the period during which you should be tested). Eventually after repeated attempts and as if by magic a couple of local testing centres popped up and so now at the time of writing they are waiting two days for the results. Not good enough.

Firstly, hats off to my daughter for not giving up. Hats off to the staff manning the testing station for gently explaining to a four-year-old what they were doing and why. And hats off to those processing their tests who are clearly struggling to cope with the numbers and are now being blamed for the backlog. It is not their fault.

So to a Prime Minister that promised us a “world beating“ testing system. It clearly is not. So either make it one, or find those who can. And don’t promise us a £100bn test for everyone in the dim and distant future when we can’t even get this one working properly. Operation Moonshot? Operation pie in the sky more like.

I do not know what went wrong with my daughter’s efforts to do as the doctor insisted and get tested. Perhaps it was a computer glitch that miraculously righted itself. But she is not the only one who has been fighting for a slot. As we enter the period when viruses and illnesses become more prevalent, things will only get worse unless capacity increases and efficiency improves.

And again to the Government. Stop blaming the number of people being tested when that is what we have been urged to do. What happened to the app which was the saviour we were waiting for? Why are we only now saying six people can meet when packed beaches and bank holiday weekends way back in May were adequate warning that people were flouting the rules that should have been set in stone from day one. And why are we waiting until Monday?

My other question is who are these mystery marshals that will now miraculously appear in our town centres enforcing the rules? If the police can’t do it, how can they? Time to bring back the Army, but this time ensure they not only have the law on their side but instructions to use it instead of relying on the faint hope that people will start to behave like grown-ups.

During the summer, without daily briefings, we somehow started believing by some miracle this had all gone away. We seemed to be winning the battle. Well, we weren’t. In the weeks and months of lockdown shops and supermarkets observed strict distancing and wiped down trolleys for customers. This week at one supermarket, trolleys were used and put back by shoppers without even a hand sanitising station.

In Whitby, on a crowded Bank Holiday week, the one-way system across the narrow swing bridge was in force, but too many people ignored it and no one policed it. So we met people coming toward us inches apart, not metres. Within days some restaurants and accommodation were closed after positive tests. What have we been playing at?

Covid is here to stay until we have a vaccine. Until then all we have is testing, the law and common sense. If we can build three emergency hospitals in almost as many days surely we can get testing and track and trace up to speed? If we at last have the laws we can at least use them.

As for common sense, to those who argue the new measures are too Draconian, try telling that to the family of my friend who would have been 61 this week had she not died in March with Covid. You insult my intelligence and the memory of her and others like her by questioning the seriousness of this illness and do a disservice to those front line workers who will have to pick up the pieces of our complacency.

And if I hear one more person blame the media for scaremongering I will scream. We are not told what to say. I think you mistake us for Russia or China. And it is scary. And now I have to tell my granddaughter that Christmas won’t be like Christmas this year because of those who believe I’m alright Jack because I am not old, or ill, just stupid.

Well, Matilda, we will have Christmas, even if we have three Christmases in groups of six. You will go back to school and see your friends and we will have fun.

Because that is what you deserve to be part of your childhood memories, not someone sticking a cotton bud in your throat after a fight to get you tested to keep us all safe. If we can’t promise you that, then we are anything but world beating.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson