ONE of the few benefits of living in the Unprecedented Era is having the chance to experience life at another time and in a different place.

If, for example, you ever had a hankering to be a housewife in the Soviet Union and queue for essential foodstuffs, then why not pop down to your local supermarket and join the line? Wearing of headscarves and knee socks optional.

Fancy feeling like a character in a zombie horror movie? Easy. Take a walk in the park. What fun it is to scan the horizon for strangers and wonder if they are infected or not. By the time they are close it will be too late, so better turn tail now.

It is better than virtual reality, and you don't have to wear a headset.

Best of all is the way this crisis has finally allowed Britain to wallow in the era it loves best – the Second World War.

Encouraged by Boris Johnson and his Ministers, the public has been urged to embrace the Blitz spirit and keep smiling through. It's Britain this and Britain that, and we are one big happy family living in a Dad’s Army world.

That was the script for the first week of lockdown, anyway. Now there is a new mood gathering, and not before time.

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It was understandable in the early phases of this crisis that there should be a rush to suspend politics as usual. The first PMQs and FMQs as the extent of the emergency emerged were models of restraint, civility and supportiveness.

In journalism too, as in society at large, there was an instinctive reluctance to point fingers. Given the enormity of what has happened, and the rate at which the pandemic has unfolded, many have been, again understandably, stunned into quietude and acquiescence. Surrounded by so much suffering and loss it seemed almost trivial, unhelpful even, to fret over details. Everyone was trying their best in a situation none of us had experienced before.

That is no longer good enough, particularly when it comes to testing. On March 16, the World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had a simple message for all countries: test, test, test. It was not enough to tell people to wash their hands and keep their distance. Only by testing could a country be sure of monitoring and minimising the spread of the virus.

We knew this already from the experience of South Korea and Singapore. We know, too, that testing is vital in getting self-isolating NHS staff back to work if they have had the all-clear.

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But here we are, some 17 days later – a relative eternity in terms of this virus – and governments in London and Edinburgh are failing to hit their targets on testing. There were supposed to be 10,000 people tested a day, building to 25,000. Even this was pathetically low compared to Germany, which can carry out three times that. Yet the UK cannot even hit the lower mark. On Monday, 8000 people were tested. There are not enough kits and labs to ramp up testing to the level required. (At least in Scotland we were ahead of the game on NHS staff testing.)

This is not the first time that reality has failed to match government promises. Remember the antibody test that would tell people if they had had the virus and were now most likely immune? The one described by Boris Johnson on March 19 as a “game-changer”? The Prime Minister said trials could start within a month. Weeks on, how close are we to a roll out of these tests?

Then there is the great Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) mystery. Every day a Minister or health official stands at a podium in Downing Street and reels out the statistics on how many masks are available, how many aprons. Millions and millions we are told.

Yet also every day, NHS and social care staff are reporting that they do not have the equipment that gives them a fighting chance of staying safe and well. It is scandalous in a supposedly advanced, wealthy society that NHS doctors have to set up a crowdfunding site to buy essential items. Well done and god bless the likes of Scots actor James McAvoy who donated £275,000 to the campaign, but it should not be necessary in the first place.

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On all these matters, and more, governments must be held to account. With Westminster and Holyrood going into recess, and possibly sitting for fewer days when they return, it is even more essential that the media is allowed to do its job.

We have, of course, the daily press conferences in London and Edinburgh. While vital, they have their limitations, the most obvious of which is the lack of follow-up questions. Time and again the questions being asked are not answered, but there is no comeback and the show rolls on.

What is required, in addition to these daily press conferences, are extended interviews with Ministers. Some have taken place, but more are needed, particularly ones where the questioner can drill down for answers. Never has Andrew Neil been more missed than now.

It should be said that some of our politicians are reacting to this crisis better than others. Even those who disagree with her on much else would have to concede Scotland’s First Minister has been a been a model of clarity and a reassuring presence throughout.

As for the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, there is much talk of a vigorous, ordered response, but once again there is a large gap between the rhetoric and the reality.

There will come a time for reckoning on this pandemic, locally, nationally and globally. That could be a long way down the road. Many will have to account for what they did, or did not do, in this crisis and explain how vital time was lost in preparing for it.

In the meantime, the public has to feel sure it is being told everything it needs to know, and that the steps being taken by governments are the right ones. We need answers, yes, but we need a lot more questioning besides.

The public is ready, willing and able to do the right thing during this lockdown. Patience, however, will not last forever.