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"Are you ready? Get testing. Go!”

By Tim Le Couilliard
17 February 2021
Public Affairs

By Tim Le Couilliard

Ahead of Boris Johnson’s hotly anticipated lockdown escape map being unveiled next week, journalists are doing all they can to sneak a preview into what may or may not be announced. After all, is there anything else that anyone is interested in at present? 

Like the population, the media is obsessed with the set piece announcement, and the government has tried, a tad unsuccessfully, to damp down expectations. The government has been unable to stop leaks or speculation, however, with all UK nationals featuring front-page spreads, each detailing the gobbets of information they have gleaned. Amidst the pessimistic headlines that lockdown will continue until cases drop below 1,000 a day (the Telegraph), that more groups are being told to shield (the Guardian and the I) or the leisurely July leisure roadmap (Daily Mail), there are some positives in and amongst them. The Metro leads with the welcome news that current predictions out of the Vaccination Taskforce are that all adults in the UK will have had two jabs by August, and the Guardian leads with “early data suggests UK vaccination is working”.

Perhaps the biggest scoop of the day goes to The Times, with their Chief Political Correspondent Henry Zeffman running with the “mass testing blitz” that the UK can expect to be unveiled alongside next week’s announcement. Zeffman reports that the UK can expect more than 400,000 lateral flow tests per-day in the coming months with tests to be distributed by post to homes and workplaces, with an aim of getting the UK to “a new normal”. Lateral flow tests return results within 30 minutes, although concerns remain regarding accuracy with relatively high levels of false negatives. 

All eyes have recently been laser focused on the vaccination process, generally regarded as a welcome success for the government. One senior minister recently has been quoted in saying that, whilst “the vaccination program is going better than we could have hoped, testing is the key to getting the economy going again.”

With the unlocking of daily life again, for which many hope the 8th March is likely to be the start of, there will, of course, be an upsurge in cases. The goal, according to Dominic Raab, who led the morning broadcast round today, is for testing to be carried out at such a “scale and at pace so that when you do have upticks of the virus, we can come down on it like a tonne of bricks.”

The NHS and the Royal Mail have been set to task in preparing distribution centres and the tests for widespread rollout, ahead of the return of schools and, following that, workplaces. Children, teachers and parents are set to be offered a test twice a week from the 8th March and from April / May, businesses will be part of the mass testing programme, signalling the government’s intention that by then, people will be back in their offices and workplaces. From there, the Guardian expects that the government will look to mass public events, such as sporting and music gatherings, to be used as vehicles for mass testing. This however feels a long way down the line. 

Regulation too is having to be considered by the government, as this is the first mass lateral flow test campaign to take place in the UK. Previously concern was raised that lateral flow tests are best carried out by trained medical professionals or else they would be inaccurate. The government is hoping that the medicines regulator approves the programme ahead of Monday’s announcement so the proposals can be announced at the same time, especially when they are so closely aligned.

Beyond the huge logistical and time pressures of the proposed new postal testing system, there is, of course, the communications considerations, as there have been at every stage of the pandemic. Whilst testing has nothing like the same levels of opposition that the vaccine has received, it still needs to be articulated and explained to a tired and weary population, nearing the year anniversary of Covid-19 restrictions. 

Therefore, as with all government announcements made during the pandemic, the new campaign needed a new slogan – this time “Are you ready? Get testing. Go.” A simple, uplifting caption, with the clear intention to make it sound quick, easy, and then with the ability to “go” afterwards. This coined phrase may well be looked back upon as one of the most welcome of the pandemic and is the first with a positive spin since the ill-fated “Eat Out To Help Out” scheme. 

Also previewed in Zeffman’s article, the government expects that the new campaign to be led by “household names” and celebrities. Many will have seen the vaccine campaign being fronted by the likes of Sir Elton John and Sir Michael Caine, with viral videos circulating in the media and online. My picks for fronting the testing campaign would be David Beckham or Princess Catherine but we will see who gets the nod in due course.  

We all await with bated breath to see what else the newspapers dig up, as the countdown until Monday continues. The Sun reports that tomorrow evening Boris Johnson will be handed a “dossier” of vaccine data, that is set to decide the fate of the UK’s exit out of lockdown. Let’s hope there’s not too long to go now…