Boris Johnsons’s decision to focus on targeted testing rather than mass testing is making it more difficult to get out of the coronavirus lockdown, Tony Blair has said.
The former prime minister told Radio 4’s Today programme that the government’s position on testing is the “single most important decision” around containing the coronavirus pandemic.
His comments come as a report by his think tank, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, urged the government to “shift at speed” to a mass testing regime rather than continuing with targeted and controlled testing.
“My view is that this is probably the single most important decision the government have got to take around containment at the moment and I think they’ve got to go back to their original strategy published back in April which was to have mass testing,” he told Today.
“They’ve departed from that and are now effectively only doing targeted testing and I think that this is going to make it much more difficult to get out of lockdown fast.”
He said it would be “virtually impossible” to make the track and trace system work effectively unless it was combined with mass testing.
He said mass testing was key for containing future outbreaks of COVID-19.
Government advisers have previously said lockdown shouldn’t be eased until the track and trace system is shown to be a success.
“It’s not just a question of how we ease the lockdown today,” Blair added. “My anxiety is what happens if there’s a resurgence of the disease in October/November? At that point you’ve got to have in place the ability to do mass testing, which means rapid tests combined with your lab-based tests.
“I really want to underline this. I think right now in government this is the single most important preparation they can make to give us an effective containment strategy.”
Blair said the UK’s situation was “worse than comparable countries”, saying Thursday’s number of confirmed cases was “more than France, Italy, Spain and Germany put together”.
He said: “Our death rate is still significantly above others and yet we’re easing, so we’re easing the lockdown in circumstances where we’re in a worse position than comparable countries and that’s why our position on testing has got to be a lot tougher and better than other countries.”
He said he had “complete sympathy at one level” with the government, but added it was important to “really interrogate every single decision in detail to make sure we’ve got the best containment strategy in place”.
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