5 Fibs You Were Told This Week

Moonshots, whistleblowers, and asking people to obey the law 24 hours after admitting you won't be yourself. Welcome to the current state of the UK.

“Moonshot” – “an ambitious, exploratory and ground-breaking project undertaken without any expectation of near-term profitability or benefit and also, perhaps, without a full investigation of potential risks and benefits”.

This definition is freely available to anyone with a computer and the ability to type so it was rather surprising and slightly worrying this week when the term “moonshot” became synonymous with the UK government’s latest attempt to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

1) The Moonshot

The UK government doesn’t have a great record when it comes to testing for and tracing coronavirus, so it was a bit of a surprise when on Wednesday they announced an even more ambitious plan.

Operation Moonshot is a plan to process “literally millions” of tests “every single day”, using new “simple, quick and scalable” tests that could determine whether someone had coronavirus in as little as 20 minutes.

The PM said: “We believe that new types of test which are simple, quick and scalable will become available. They use swabs or saliva and can turn round results in 90 or even 20 minutes.

“Crucially, it should be possible to deploy these tests on a far bigger scale than any country has yet achieved - literally millions of tests processed every single day.

“We are hopeful this approach will be widespread by the spring and, if everything comes together, it may be possible even for challenging sectors like theatres to have life much closer to normal before Christmas.”

While it all sounds absolutely marvellous, when you actually look at the monumental hurdles in the way it all seems a bit ... out of this world.

The technology doesn’t even exist yet, there would be a massive problem with false negative results and there’s not even a plan for how everyone in the country would get receive enough tests regularly enough to do one every day.

Oh, and there’s the slight issue of cost – £100bn, which is almost the entire annual budget of the NHS.

2) Test and Trace

On Thursday, Baroness Dido Harding – who is in charge of Test and Trace, insisted the system was working despite more missed targets, and the number of close contacts being reached falling to a record low.

Figures for the latest weekly update show that just 69.2% of those “close contacts” – defined as being within two metres of a Covid carrier for more than 15 minutes – are actually being reached.

The statistics, for the week between August 28 and September 2 show a fall on the 69.4% of the previous week – and are the lowest weekly percentage since the service launched in May.

Testing turnaround times are also well short of the 100% within 24 hours target set by Johnson, with an average of just under 63% of in-person tests meeting that deadline.

Yet Harding said: “NHS Test and Trace is working and every week we consistently reach the majority of people testing positive and their contacts.”


3)The whistleblowers

While we’re on the subject of Test and Trace, two whistleblowers working at testing centres in England this week came forward to HuffPost UK and described a litany of problems with the supposedly “world beating” system.

One accused Matt Hancock of “lying through his teeth” as he said the site at which they work is running at a fraction of capacity and has been doing so for at least two weeks in what amounts to a “planned slowdown of testing in all but name”.

One whistleblower spoke out after Hancock insisted on Thursday that the government’s coronavirus testing system was working “well” and said there were only “operational challenges from time to time”.

“This whole thing is ridiculous. Watching Matt Hancock lying through his teeth was too much,” they said.

You can read the full reports here and here.

4) Obeying the law. Or not

On Wednesday Boris Johnson said “everybody” should obey the law.

A simple and sensible request from the PM you might think, but events in the Commons just a day earlier make his request seem a bit... hypocritical.

On Tuesday the government admitted new legislation to change the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU would would go against international law in a “very specific and limited way”.

This remarkable and highly imaginative use of the English language is apparently to ensure “damaging” tariffs are not imposed by “default” on goods travelling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland if negotiations with the EU on a free trade agreement fail.

But as you can imagine, it caused quite the furore on social media...

5) Annnnnnnd finally

This round up wound’t be complete without an entry from President Donald Trump.

According to a new book from legendary Watergate reporter Bob Woodward, Trump knew in early February that the coronavirus posed a unique and deadly threat to the United States, and was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

At the time, Trump repeatedly publicly downplayed the virus as no more dangerous than the flu.

The revelation is one of many in journalist Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, “Rage”, for which Trump granted Woodward a series of interviews.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said in a February 7 call with Woodward. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”

“This is deadly stuff,” he repeated.

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19, according to a copy of the book obtained by CNN. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

“Playing it down” has meant the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic in the US is poised to pass 200,000 any day now.