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Why Boris Johnson’s ‘moonshot’ plans have made people really (and rightfully) angry

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Kayleigh Dray
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Operation Moonshot: Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual press conference at Downing Street on September 9, 2020 in London, England. As from Monday September 14, people in England will only be allowed to socialise in groups of six or less people following the announcement from the Prime Minister. This is to help curb the recent rise in Coronavirus cases. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau- WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Trust us: Boris Johnson’s Covid-19 testing plan only gets worse once you’ve learned the meaning behind the name ‘moonshot’.

There’s no denying that the government’s new coronavirus guidelines have proven a tough pill to swallow. Indeed, yesterday’s press briefing confirmed that the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases is now rising and, as a result, social gatherings are being limited once again.

This means that, as of Monday 14 September, it will be illegal to meet up with more than six people (barring a few exemptions). And, as Boris Johnson himself explained, those who are caught failing to comply with this rule will be met with a £100 fine, doubling on each offence up to a maximum of £3,200.

The prime minister, though, was quick to add that he is hopeful a testing “moonshot” – aka regular mass testing, in the style of “pregnancy tests” – will allow us all to allow for a return to normal life in time for Christmas.

“Through that Moonshot of daily testing – everybody gets a rapid turn-around test in the morning, 15 minutes later you know whether you are infectious or not,” he said.

Operation Moonshot: Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Witty, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance attend a virtual press conference at Downing Street on 9 September 2020.
Operation Moonshot: Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Witty, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance attend a virtual press conference at Downing Street on 9 September 2020.

Johnson went on to explain that ‘Operation Moonshot’ will allow those Brits who find themselves Covid-free will get a 24-hour “freedom pass”.

This “freedom pass”, the prime minister added, would allow people to mingle as they did in the days before the pandemic, thus paving the way for large family gatherings, sports events, theatres, and more.

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While this may sound a brilliant solution, it is sadly so on paper only. Medical professionals have already pointed out that it is incredibly doubtful the government will be able to process some 10 million tests a day. Others, meanwhile, have calculated that Operation Moonshot could cost around £100 billion – almost the entire NHS budget, as per multiple reports.

And then there’s the fact that nobody knows if these daily saliva tests even work yet.

“They have not been validated,” said chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallace during the daily briefing.

With all this in mind, it’s well worth noting that the term ‘moonshot’ is defined (in a technology context, at least) as being “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.”

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“The government has been gaslighting the British public throughout the pandemic – enough’s enough”

Right. Is it any wonder, then, that Twitter is filled with angry responses to the ‘Operation Moonshot’ announcement?

“The prime minister’s moonshot nonsense (no science, feasibility, evidence) has been earmarked for £100 billion, almost the entire NHS budget, with contracts for Astra, Serco and G4S,” noted Dr Anthony Costello.

“This is waste/corruption on a cosmic scale.”

Adam Kay, meanwhile, tweeted: “Operation Moonshot. OPERATION MOONSHOT. What were the rejected titles? Operation Fuck It I Guess It’s Worth A Punt?”

And political correspondent Jessica Elgot, meanwhile, pointed out: “£100 billion can just sound like a big number, but let me stress it is absolutely wild. It’s double the entire defence budget, [and] it’s two-thirds of what the government spends a year on the entire NHS.”

Elsewhere, Kay Burley reminded everyone that, during her interview with transport secretary Grant Shapps, he admitted that there “isn’t yet a certified Covid test in the world that gives results in minutes as the government’s Operation Moonshot programme hopes to do.”

And many have expressed upset over new claims that “the 100 billion for the ‘moonshot’ plan will be going into the private sector, not the NHS.”

“I cannot believe we have been under the tyranny of Tories for so long,” tweeted author Bolu Babalola.

“Surprise, surprise,” added another social media user.

If the rumours around Operation Moonshot have left you, too, worried about the NHS, Stylist has rounded up six ways you can support the UK’s National Health Service, which includes advice on how to write to your local MP and demand action, and where best to volunteer.

Because, in the words of a quote often mistakenly attributed to Nye Bevan, the health minister who oversaw the health service’s creation: “The NHS will last as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it.” 

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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