THE Government’s ambition to reach a daily target of 100,000 tests across the UK by the end of the month will, as Matt Hancock admitted, require a “huge amount of work”.

It may also seem unrealistically ambitious, given the time it took to reach the current target of 10,000 a day (met for the first time on Wednesday), and appear to mark a shift in priorities – perhaps in response to criticism from some quarters that other countries, notably Germany, are conducting many more tests per head of population.

There is, too, given the home nations’ generally coordinated approach, the challenge that it poses for the Scottish health service to match the response, though the country may still be slightly behind the curve in the disease’s spread elsewhere.

The media's interest in, and proper scrutiny of, whether the response of the authorities here and at Westminster has been effective is correct and – in the neutral sense – critical. Yet if the tactics or timetables of the NHS or other services change in accordance with the best scientific advice available, that is to be welcomed. Every country is dealing with an unprecedented public health emergency, and it is unreasonable to imagine that mistakes are altogether avoidable; what matters is quickly adapting as our understanding of the virus improves.

In this regard, there is general public support for both governments, and a sense of common purpose. If there have been delays and misjudgments, there have also been truly remarkable achievements; the construction of field hospitals in a matter of days, the rapid provision, despite supply chain difficulties, of additional ventilators, the public’s overwhelming compliance with extraordinary restrictions and, above all, the work and dedication of key staff in frontline positions.

The vital consideration is that solid medical and scientific evidence – not shaky behavioural theories – should drive policy (as it seems to have done thus far). And Germany, despite wider testing, does not have very different health outcomes; the UK is testing more widely than, for example, France. Spain and Italy may have reached a peak in transmission, as we almost certainly haven’t, but it is too early to be sure.

Indeed, most European countries, despite each tailoring their approaches to their own circumstances, appear to differ mainly in the stage the disease has reached: it will not become apparent for some time whether cases level out at similar points. Or indeed, whether social distancing, testing (and of which sort) or methods of treatment are the principal factors that identify best practice in tackling this outbreak.

It will be some time before we know when we have passed the worst, and when lockdown measures can be relaxed; it will be much longer before the huge economic implications can be assessed, let alone mitigated. There is a different, and equally important, priority in the next few weeks, which are likely to be a period in which the strains of confinement, stress and financial worry will begin to show.

That is our personal responses. The reality is that, if we haven’t already, within weeks most of us will have family, neighbours and friends directly stricken by this disease. Those human tragedies will be attended by highly abnormal circumstances; the usual responses designed to help us cope with bereavement and illness will largely be absent. Funerals, the simple act of visiting the sick, religious services or other community support structures, and the chance for families to unite are all difficult, if not impossible, to maintain in the current climate.

Certainly, we should care about whether testing is effective, and whether the authorities are producing adequate resources and following well-evidenced courses of action. But we must also have a care for one another. It may yet be a couple of months before the light at the end of the tunnel is even apparent, and those will be dark days for a great many of us. Goodwill, kindness, sympathy and a readiness to support one another will be the tests that matter above all.