Test, Trace and Isolate

Test Trace and Isolate

– is never going to work properly in the UK.

At least I hope it won’t, because the only way that it can, is if we become a very different country to the one that I grew up in and love so much.


Allow me to explain….

There is a simple truth which most politicians will never admit, 

 – as long as we remain a democratic state, a reasonably free society, we are always going to struggle to cope with a pandemic.

Totalitarian states, where the exact movements of every citizen are constantly monitored, and “at the drop of a hat” controlled,

 – will always have very little problem halting pandemics in their tracks.

Chinese authorities can, and will, for example in the event of another outbreak in Hubei province,

– simply tell, perhaps 11 million people that they can’t leave their houses, unless to go to a testing centre, which they must do ASAP,

 – and order police to break in and forcibly test anyone that hasn’t been recorded as attending/being tested within a few days.

Anyone who disobeys and leaves their house will very quickly be “rounded up” and thrown back inside.  If they are lucky.  They may get thrown somewhere else.

A week later the authorities will know exactly where all the Covid-19 cases are, anyone with the virus will by then have been forcibly isolated, along with all their immediate contacts, and within a month the outbreak will very likely have been eliminated.

Life pretty much resumes normal. Normal, “totalitarian state” style. Not Gangnam.

Every Chinese citizen living in a city now has an app on their phone which allows them entry into buildings, and of course sends the data to central servers.

So the Chinese state at any point in time, knows exactly which building you are in.

Meanwhile in the UK there are between 1 and 3 million people to some degree “undocumented”,

– either don’t appear on any databases at all, or are here illegally having over stayed holiday, student visas etc

(Apart from anything else this is going to make these people rather difficult to vaccinate.

If you are living in effectively a shed at the bottom of a garden in London, you’re probably not going to get a letter inviting you to be vaccinated pop through your letterbox. You almost certainly won’t have a letterbox).

The government in the UK can never hope to deal with a pandemic in the way that the Chinese authorities can, and do

The only “tools” at its disposal to try to identify where outbreaks are happening, and contain them, is asking people to get tested, and asking people to self isolate if they are found to be infected.

It can offer financial incentives to encourage “positive cases” to isolate, and/or penalties if they are found not to have done so, but unless the incentives are large, which they are currently not,

 – a large number of people will avoid getting tested, as they simply can not afford to isolate themselves and miss out on income/wages if they get a positive result back.

People who are living illegally, will not go and get tested.  People who can not afford to work for financial reasons, will not get tested.  People who just do not like being told what to do… will not get tested.    

In a completely free and open, democratic society, certainly once reached the stage this one has, infections widespread across the country,

– pandemics are always going to be impossible to eliminate completely,

 – in a completely totalitarian state, very easy.

We need to recognise this “simple truth”, accept it, and decide how we wish to move forward.

We may be able to “vaccinate our way out” of this pandemic (or we may not, with new variants constantly appearing around the world), 

 – but even if we manage to do so, another will probably come along which we can not.


“The 64 million dollar question” facing us going forward therefore is:

  “Exactly where do we want to be as a society on this spectrum?”

In an ideal world, (maybe) the government in a free society could set up all the necessary tools to operate as a totalitarian state, but only use them when a pandemic hits,

 – essentially switch into “totalitarian state mode” for a short period of time, hopefully in just a limited part of the country.

Arguably what Australia and New Zealand have been doing fairly successfully, and to some degree, what European nations have done very unsuccessfully,

– mostly they have had far bigger outbreaks to deal with, and tried to tackle them by going “between 30 and 70% totalitarian”. Which simply hasn’t worked. At least in terms of reducing the virus to a low level, and/or eliminating it.

Lots of pain, very little gain. 

In European countries partial lockdowns (by which I mean anything less than the measures China uses)

 – have at best “bought a little time”, it’s all they ever can do, and there are huge “downsides” to them

(which is why the World Health Organisation recommends they should only ever be used as a last resort, to prevent health services becoming overrun).

Australia and New Zealand were both able to stop the pandemic spreading across their countries, when/where pockets of infection sprang up,

– they clamped down extremely hard, if you like, they went “100% totalitarian”, in the places where outbreaks occurred.

This approach has worked pretty well in the short term for them, how they will manage in the medium/long term, keeping their borders essentially shut, in an attempt to keep Covid-19 out completely, is another question.  

I talk more about the use of lockdowns and closing borders on a different page of this site.  

The clear and present danger of course, of a state acquiring “a totalitarian type state” toolset,

 – is that those running it will rather enjoy using it, keep making up excuses “to add new tools”, and never want to stop using any of them.

Pandemic, or no pandemic… 

 – it remains to be seen how the Australian and New Zealand governments use their newly acquired powers in the coming years.