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COVID testing and 'the fear': could I be Patient Zero?

Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images

COVID testing and 'the fear': could I be Patient Zero?

Have you been tested yet? We have, the whole family, after a bout of back-to-school sniffles with taste impairment.

It turned out fine – negative all round – but it was enough to give us The Fear.

That’s the feeling you get when you start worrying about whom you might have infected.

Oh hell, I thought as we drove to the test centre, we were in A’s garden two days ago, drinking out of her mugs. She’s a doctor. And we went into F and J’s flat! There’s no way we were two metres away from them and F is going to see her mum tomorrow. Oh jeez.

With a heavy heart you have to send the “Just to let you know…” texts, warning them there’s “an outside chance” etc etc. It may be the responsible thing to do but what a maelstrom of anxiety it leaves in its wake. “Can you let us know,” come the return texts, “as soon as you get your results??”

We did and it was fine (it helped that our symptoms resolved quickly, so we could provide some reassurance).

Even so, the experience was salutary, that sickening realisation that, however unlikely it may seem, you yourself might be Patient Zero in a fresh outbreak.

Frankly, it was just the jolt we needed.

In the last six weeks, two things have become clear: the limit of government control over this virus and the extent to which that unreliable defence called personal responsibility will determine the trajectory it takes over the coming months.

No one wants to spread COVID, but we all forget. We forget to move aside on footpaths and supermarket aisles. We stand close to friends. We forget our masks. We hang out like the old days in each other’s houses. Last week, the Westminster defence secretary Ben Wallace forgot himself to such an extent that he shook hands with someone outside Downing Street in full view of the assembled press. Presumably life seems so normal to him now, that the klaxon in his head just didn’t go off.

I can understand that; we all can. Most of us stopped being on red alert some time ago. As the infection rates ticked ever downwards in early summer, the sense of danger receded. The lifting of restrictions did not come with a nod and wink – “enjoy yourselves!” – but many people took it that way.

It seems faintly ridiculous now, but two months ago there was even talk of Scotland becoming virus-free by the end of summer, as if we could be calm, prosperous Switzerland amid a world war on COVID.

It was not to be. “We are not on top of the virus,” Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs last week, saying that transmission in the west of Scotland was taking place mainly in people’s homes (house parties are known to be a particular problem). Challenged by Willie Rennie as to why Test and Protect hadn’t driven out the virus before it could spread, she said it was the public, not the testing regime, that was “the first line of defence”. “I think all of us have got to do our jobs maybe just a bit better,” she said.

A cop-out response on testing? Perhaps, but sadly she’s right about individual action. We’ll all have to party like it’s April 2020 or deal with The Fear.

Read the most recent article written by Rebecca McQuillan - Who will get burned over the UK Internal Market Bill?

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