And it is, we are told, a key weapon in turning the tide of the coronavirus pandemic which has caused death and misery over the last six months, and sadly looks like doing the same for the next six months too.
Lives are being shattered directly through the virus, and indirectly through its massive economic impact. If test and trace is the answer, then it is an answer that we still haven’t got right. The testing regime continues to hover on the edge of chaos, with well-publicised cases of people being offered testing slots hundreds of miles away from their homes. The trace bit is failing as well. Across our region huge numbers of people identified as being close contacts of those showing symptoms of the virus have not been reached. What that means is that there is an army out there who potentially could be infected who are not self-isolating.
While they remain “at large” they may in turn be infecting others, part of the pandemic chain reaction which sends that R number we are so often told about soaring above one.
This is the nightmare that we are supposed to be guarding against, that of the disease spreading like wildfire. As Britain once more stands on the brink and with the approach of the autumn and winter, it has to start getting everything right, and not just some things right. Six months of bitter experience should surely have taught some lessons, and given time to ensure things are working as they should.
Tracing people is inherently difficult, and the system breaks down anyway if those traced don’t self isolate because they don’t feel ill – the big stick of heavy fines is now being used.
The new contact tracing app, using mobile phones to alert people if they’ve been close to somebody infected, is yet another weapon without, based on experience elsewhere, being a gamechanger. Technology is being brought to bear, medicine and science are doing their utmost, but a virus which feeds on human behaviour places an individual responsibility on everybody in the community.