Coronavirus: Tony Blair tells government mass testing regime must be introduced to keep virus at bay

Lockdown being eased while virus levels remain ‘stubbornly high’, former PM warns

Harriet Line
Friday 05 June 2020 06:59
comments
Mr Blair has urged the Government to "shift at speed" to building a mass testing regime, rather than continuing with targeted and controlled testing.
Mr Blair has urged the Government to "shift at speed" to building a mass testing regime, rather than continuing with targeted and controlled testing.

A mass coronavirus testing regime that allows the bulk of the population to be tested must be adopted to keep the disease in check, Tony Blair has said.

The Labour former prime minister warned that the UK is unlocking restrictions when Covid-19 levels remain “stubbornly high”.

He said the easing of the measures puts a premium on having the best containment strategy in place, yet he warned: “We don’t have it”.

Mr Blair said the UK should enact mass testing using laboratory-based tests and rapid, on-the-spot tests — both antigen and antibody — “which will allow us to test the bulk of the population and do so, if necessary, regularly”.

A report by his think tank, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, said the UK’s approach to testing is chiefly concentrated on lab-based tests for those with symptoms and critical workers.

But it instead urges the Government to “shift at speed” to building a mass testing regime, rather than continuing with targeted and controlled testing.

The report states: “The prevalence of the virus means that mass testing is required to continue to screen a high proportion of the population, identifying cases to keep the disease in check and to help large numbers of people make informed decisions about how they should behave based on their disease status.

“The current approach places a high dependence on a track and trace model that is neither fully ready, nor workable in the absence of mass testing. The two must work together for the population to safely engage with the easing of lockdown measures.

“For example, rather than relying on identified contacts self-isolating for 14 days without testing, a mass testing regime would mean that a test would be available once someone is informed that they have come into contact with a Covid-19-positive patient.

“There are concerns that early tests may not pick up the virus — but under mass testing not only are tests available for all regardless of symptoms but there could also be scope for a contacted citizen to take two tests, seven days apart, and if both returned negative, the individual would be eligible to exit self-isolation early.

Loading....

“This differs from the current requirement to self-isolate without being tested unless symptoms develop.”

The think tank recommends people receive their test results within 24 hours, and that any person who has come into contact with an infected person — regardless of symptoms — be tested.

It also calls for regular testing for a “sizeable part of the population” — using both antigen and antibody testing — with those proving immune removed from the cycle.

And it says frontline healthcare staff should have weekly testing “at the minimum”.

Commenting on the report, Mr Blair said: “In the report we show how the government has effectively abandoned pillars 3 and 5 of its original mass testing strategy and reverted to targeted testing reliant on lab-based tests for restricted categories of people.

“We believe this is an error with potentially serious consequences. It will make it harder to give people confidence to return to some form of normality. Harder for business to operate. Harder for people to travel. Harder to do track and trace properly. And much harder to contain any resurgence of the disease in the coming weeks or in the autumn and winter when such a resurgence would have a devastating impact on confidence and the economy.

“Instead we set out how the government can enact mass testing using not only all available lab space for more lab-based tests; but crucially how we combine these with rapid on-the-spot tests — both antigen and antibody — which will allow us to test the bulk of the population and do so, if necessary, regularly.”

Press Association

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments