November 30, 2020

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The Guardian view on Boris Johnson's Covid gamble: not a winning wager | Editorial

The prime minister needs to rebuild a political consensus for his pandemic plans, not least because a Tory revolt would see him need Labour support to pass new measures

Like a gambling addict, Boris Johnson racks up losses but keeps laying larger bets, convinced a last big win awaits him. In a casino, this plan might hurt his wallet and his pride. In a pandemic wrapped around the shock of Brexit, such a strategy could cost, unnecessarily, lives and livelihoods. But Mr Johnson has won against the odds before. Faced with a political opponent, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, who is able to marshall Mr Johnson’s own Conservative backbenchers against him, the prime minister has opted to double down on his plan to test his way out of the coronavirus crisis. But it is not a winning wager.

The prime minister has pinned his hopes on a new saliva-based test that can tell whether a person is Covid-positive within 15 minutes. Speed is essential to contain a pandemic. With wait times for diagnostic test results not coming down fast enough, contact tracers have too short a window to identify coronavirus patients before they have a chance to infect others. The centralised, privately run test-and-trace system is clunky and relies on specialised laboratories. By comparison, the new tests can be done on the spot.

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