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UK government needs to ‘sort out test and trace system’ industry chiefs say

·4-min read
Leaders said that the test and trace system holds the key to a lasting exit strategy for both public health and the economy. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA via Getty Images
Leaders said that the test and trace system holds the key to a lasting exit strategy for both public health and the economy. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA via Getty Images

UK industry leaders have called on the government to sort out the country’s test and trace system, after prime minister Boris Johnson announced England would enter a second lockdown.

During a press conference on Saturday, Johnson, who was accompanied by England's chief medical officer professor Chris Whitty and the government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, announced non-essential shops and hospitality will be closed, and travel will be under new restrictions.

The measures mean that pubs, cafes and restaurants will shut, except for takeaway and delivery services, from 5 November to 2 December.

But, the restrictions do not include schools and colleges, which will be allowed to stay open.

Johnson also promised “rapid turnaround tests” for COVID-19 that will be rolled out in “a matter of days.” He said that the Army will be brought in to help distribute the swabs, which could help partners attend labour wards.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC there would "be no effective exit on 2 December unless the government uses this time to fix test, trace and isolate".

British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) director general Adam Marshall said the new restrictions are “a devastating blow” to business communities. He added that market confidence has already been “hit hard by the unclear, stop-start approach” taken by governments across the UK during COVID-19.

“The government must not squander the time afforded to them through another lockdown to enable mass testing and fix test and trace systems — which hold the key to a lasting exit strategy for both public health and the economy,” Marshall said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: England goes into second lockdown for one month

The director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Carolyn Fairbairn said: “Lockdown is a decision for government, not business, and firms share the Prime Minister’s ambition to defeat the virus, But for many businesses, a second national lockdown marks the start of a bleak midwinter

“With the right support firms will do everything possible to minimise the damage. Across the country they have already shown how resilient they can be in the face of tighter restrictions. And thanks to huge efforts by businesses to make workplaces COVID-19 secure, more of the economy can now stay open.”

On test and trace, Dame Fairbairn said: “It’s also a breakthrough to hear government support for rapid mass testing. Affordable fast tests are a game-changer for business, enabling more firms to stay open and operate normally. We must use this lockdown month to prepare and roll-out mass testing as a matter of national urgency.”

Speaking on the new restrictions, the director general of the Institute of Directors (IoD), Jonathan Geldart said that directors want to see test and trace system “firing on all cylinders” when the country emerges from the new measures.

He added: “This could be a key weapon in the fight against the virus, but it hasn't hit its target yet. The Prime Minister’s emphasis on this is welcome, but the results on the ground will matter most.”

Watch: Boris Johnson orders national lockdown for England

READ MORE: European markets brace for tumultuous week, US election, BOE rate meeting

Meanwhile, the chief executive of UK’s retail body, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) described the lockdown as a “nightmare before Christmas”.

Helen Dickinson said she fears the new measures will cause “untold damage to the high street” in the run up to Christmas. Dickinson also worries the measures will “cost countless jobs, and permanently set back the recovery of the wider economy, with only a minimal effect on the transmission of the virus.”

Speaking on the previous national lockdown announced in March, she said that non-essential shops lost £1.6bn ($2.1bn) a week in sales. She expects the impact to be even greater as the retail sector enters the Christmas shopping period, which is usually the busiest time for UK retailers.

Many retailers have spent thousands of pounds to become coronavirus-safe and now there could be “a significant economic impact on the viability of thousands of shops and hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country,” she suggested.

Commenting on the announcement, chief executive of Make UK, Stephen Phipson, said: “Industry will accept this decision and carry on supporting the national effort as it has done since the very start of the crisis. The fact we now have more ventilators and medicines in hospitals, PPE in care homes and food on supermarket shelves is down to their great efforts.

“However, this Halloween is far from a treat for manufacturers and there will be further consequences for some industries that have already been severely impacted and which may still require sector specific support.”