Great Britain

What have I learned from surge testing? That I trust other people more than myself | Zoe Williams

More than 40 cases of the South African variant of coronavirus in the south London boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth have led to widespread surge testing in the areas – not just a few streets, but everyone who lives and works there. The neighbourhood chat boards are heaving with first-hand testimonies about the testing sites. There’s a two-hour queue, and it’s outrageous. No, there’s a five minute queue and it’s brilliant. They’re talking about two different test centres, so it’s highly likely that they’re both right, but that doesn’t stop things getting pretty heated.

Within any given five streets, I’d say, you get this perfectly bifurcated split of opinion: the government is useless and everything it does is stupid; no, the government is trying its best and everything it does is brilliant. Sometimes, I try to weigh in, with some context – “All the volunteers and professionals at the testing centres are trying superhumanly hard, and any inconvenience you experience will be the fault of some random mate of Matt Hancock’s” – but it’s got to the point that I’m even annoying myself. The best tactic, if you want to bring the community together, is to charge into the thread, shouting in all caps “NEW MOBILE TEST CENTRE JUST ABOUT TO OPEN BY THE TUBE” – the same way you can always stop a supermarket brawl by putting “checkout three opening” over the public address system – indeed, it is for precisely this reason that they have them.

There was a droll YouGov poll doing the rounds last week asking whether people would behave responsibly once shops and pubs opened. More than 90% trusted themselves; 74% did not trust others. Getting surge-tested is the same: I trusted myself to do it, my nearest and dearest, (some of) my friends. I could accept the fact that my neighbours did it faster than I did, because they’re busybodies, clearly. But the queues round the block, from the minute that mobile centre opened; the unstoppable civic energy of the word-of-mouth intel, forces me to confront the idea that everyone else might be more responsible than me, rather than less.

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