WITH the second wave of coronavirus arriving with a vengeance, and speculation growing that the population may again be placed into national lockdown, the thoughts shared by one of the UK’s most senior business leaders with this newspaper this week have been resonating strongly.

Lord Karan Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer and president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), made a compelling case for a radical change to current test and trace procedures.

Specifically, he believes the nations of the UK should move to a system of mass and frequent testing of the whole population, rather than testing those who show symptoms before their isolation if a positive result is recorded. He argues that would be the most effective way to get the economy firing again.

While the UK Government is facing increasing criticism over the shortcomings of its £12 billion Test and Trace technology (Scotland, of course, has its own system, Test and Protect), he reckons the country would be better served by following the approach to testing being taken in the US and Greece, where “five dollar, 15-minute Covid tests” are available.

Lord Bilimoria said: “They are available, but we are not using them, we are not implementing them. If we had regular testing that would be one of the best ways, and most effective way, of keeping on top of the pandemic, particularly at this time in autumn going into winter.

“That would enable the economy to fire on all cylinders, because if you are testing people regularly, you will be able to confirm the positives straight away where they have a laboratory PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to confirm it.”

Lord Bilimoria admits the cheaper, quicker tests he alludes to are not as accurate as the PCR test. But, defending this point, he cited the work of Harvard University professor of epidemiology William Hanage, noting: “If you are not looking you are not going to find it. This way you are trying to find cases and isolate people.”

Lord Bilimoria, who also argues that his proposals would be significantly cheaper than the current methods, has not been the only senior business figure to make the case for mass testing this week.

Writing in The Herald on Tuesday, Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said winter was approaching with “very limited plans for maintaining the battle against the virus while keeping as much of the economy open as possible”.

Stating his belief that the strategies favoured so far by both the UK and Scottish Governments, to drive infection rates down before reopening the economy, have failed, Mr Patrick said: “It does not therefore seem unfair for businesses to ask more of the current testing strategy. In Qingdao, the whole population is being tested after only a dozen cases were discovered in a local hospital, meaning that nine million people will be tested in a mere five days.

“I know it is hard to make comparisons with China but is it now time to explore the role of mass rapid testing much more vigorously?”

It is easy to imagine that such an approach would find favour with the Scottish hospitality industry, which is once more bearing the brunt of restrictions imposed by ministers to suppress the resurgent virus.

The closed signs are once more hanging from doors on pubs, bars and restaurants around central Scotland following last week’s controversial 16-day closure order, which came into effect on Friday evening. Industry groups and business owners continue to insist that scientific evidence does not justify the move, and that the investment made in premises to protect consumers means they are among the safest settings around.

One week on from the closure order and the anger that met the announcement shows no sign of dissipating among businesses in a sector that believes it can play an important role in combating the virus. After months of uncertainty, disruption to trade and heavy job losses, the latest wave of restrictions – on both sides of the Border – is already taking a heavy toll on the industry.

Marston’s cited recent measures applied across the UK, including the 10pm curfew, as it announced yesterday that the jobs of 2,150 people currently on furlough were at risk at the company, which has 21 pubs in Scotland. It was just the latest in a string of major operators that have announced plans to axe jobs in recent days, following heavy cuts signalled at Belhaven owner Greene King and Mitchells & Butlers.

Industry figures say the unremitting pressures arising from coronavirus are having a hugely negative impact on the mental health of staff and business owners, who have already faced months of uncertainty and are now staring at a long, hard winter with no real sign of the outlook improving. Indeed, there is real concern that the Scottish Government may seek to extend the current 16-day shutdown in the central belt, if ministers are not convinced the virus is once more in retreat.

The strain was captured by Roy Brett, chef patron of the award-winning Ondine restaurant in Edinburgh, when talking to The Herald in the immediate aftermath of the central belt closure order.

“I had staff in tears, just broken,” Mr Brett said. “I have got young, talented professional people in my team. They are talking to me as young chefs and waiting teams and [asking] “have we still got a job? Are we going to get closed down?”

“The conversation is not about produce, ‘Scotland’s land of food and drink’ or hospitality. It is not about what dishes we are creating. There is a genuine fear among the team that their time is coming.

“That is the devastating part for me.”

And it should be emphasised that it is not just the front end of the hospitality sector that is suffering. Thousands of staff and hundreds of firms in its supply chain, the wholesalers, wine merchants and seafood providers, are being stung by the sudden closure too.

Many of these companies have yet to receive any form of financial support from Government since the full scale of the crisis began to emerge in March.

At a time of mounting tensions in the relationship between business and ministers, firms need more evidence that Government is listening to the needs of the economy.