Boris Johnson’s coronavirus optimism hits testing reality

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LONDON — To steer the U.K. safely through the winter, Boris Johnson has to bridge two gaps: between capacity and demand for coronavirus tests, and between his own rhetoric and reality.

Having last week talked up the prospect of the U.K. being able to process, by next spring, “literally millions of tests … every single day,” deploying as-yet-untested technology in what he called a “moonshot,” Johnson this week faced a barrage of headlines about the failure of the current testing system to get even the basics right.

On Tuesday, his Health Secretary Matt Hancock was called to the House of Commons to listen to MPs’ concerns that a resurgence of the virus is increasing demand on the testing system, leading to people being directed — by the government’s online system — to travel hundreds of miles for an available test or being required to wait in some cases up to a week for a test to arrive at home. There are also reports of health care staff missing work for lack of a test. 

The contrast between the NASA-inspired ambition and the on-the-ground reality of tackling the pandemic is only the latest example of a pattern of behavior from Johnson’s government during the pandemic: the tendency to over-promise and then struggle to deliver.

There was the pledge of having a “world-beating” testing system by June 1; the commitment to a contact-tracing app that would be ready by mid-May (it’s due to be launched next week); and as far back in March,

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