It’s bananas that we don’t have a functioning test and trace system, says Saskia Murphy

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In the middle of last week, I found myself baking banana bread. It wasn’t really a planned thing – the three bananas I mashed, mixed and blitzed into a bowl were on their way out. The soft brown speckles on their skin had started joining up, their bottoms were bruised. The loaf tin was their destiny.

But still, with the sound of the prime minister in the background announcing new restrictions, I started getting flashbacks. Were we in March again?

Now back in a semi-lockdown, one where we’re advised to work from home again, to have left the pub by 10pm and to only socialise in groups of six, most of us are wondering what’s next.

There’s only so much baking you can do, working out in the living room starts to feel a bit soul-destroying after a while, and, let’s be honest, Zoom parties are nowhere near as fun as real parties.

But the past couple of weeks have shown that, as much as we’re all desperate to get back to normal, Covid-19 is not going away. In a press conference last week the government’s chief scientific adviser and chief medical officer outlined grim predictions for the months ahead.

We’re bracing ourselves for more isolation and more cancelled plans. And, like last time, people will adapt and comply. But if there’s one question everyone is screaming it’s this: what has happened to our testing?

Last week, a friend of mine drove from Blackpool to Barrow – a 160 mile round trip – for a test.

There are similar stories coming from all over the country. People are being forced to self-isolate for days on end, losing money and missing out on school and work while they wait for the all-clear.

Even NHS staff and care workers are struggling to get tested. Meanwhile, at Eton, all staff and students were tested at the start of term. Another boarding school in Kent has purchased its own testing machine, with results available in 90 minutes.

If that technology is available, why has the government not done its utmost to make sure key workers, at the very least, have access to it? Instead, our “world-beating” testing system has been handed to private companies to manage – outsourced to the likes of Serco.

And of course it is failing. Within a week of schools opening the government’s testing system was on the brink of collapse – as if they didn’t have the best part of a year to prepare for the inevitable September sniffles and stomach bugs that kids pick up at the start of term time.

So here we are again, on the brink of another lockdown. The first time we locked down we told ourselves that in a few months it would all be over. We promised elderly relatives we’d be able to go out for lunch again, that weddings and holidays would go ahead. We imagined that in the near future, we’d find a way of living with the virus without sacrificing jobs and the economy.

But the truth is, without a properly functioning test and tracing system we’re doomed to more months in isolation. Banana bread, anyone?

Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy

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