Blair calls for minister to be put in charge of coronavirus testing

Tony Blair calls for senior minister to be put in charge of mass coronavirus testing as pandemic approaches peak in the UK

  • Former PM Tony Blair demands Government minister takes charge of virus tests
  • Mr Blair’s intervention came amid concern over if UK will meet its testing goal
  • The Government has set a target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month
  • The epidemiologist Prof John Newton has been put in charge of the testing drive 

Tony Blair demanded a senior minister be put in direct charge of mass coronavirus testing as the number of people the NHS is testing at last started to increase.

Downing Street said yesterday that 16,000 tests were conducted on Monday, including 1,000 for health workers and their families.

This is however way behind the 100,000 a day testing target set for the end of April by Health Secretary Matt Hancock – and way behind the 250,000 pledged by Boris Johnson last month.

Tony Blair argued that a minister should ‘take charge of testing, and nothing else, with people with business experience of how you ramp up industrial scale production’. The former PM made his comments in the foreword to a report from his Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, which outlines a series of ‘exit strategy’ options

Yesterday Mr Blair argued that a minister should ‘take charge of testing, and nothing else, with people with business experience of how you ramp up industrial scale production’.

The epidemiologist Prof John Newton has been put in charge of the testing drive, but the former Labour PM argued that responsibility should be handed to a politician.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Unless you are able to get mass testing at scale, with speed, I don’t see how you can get a way out of this lockdown and I am terrified by the economic damage we are doing with every week this lockdown continues.

A medical staff member is pictured above at an NHS drive through testing facility in Manchester. Downing Street said yesterday that 16,000 tests were conducted on Monday, including 1,000 for health workers and their families

‘This damage is enormous… If it goes on for a long time then it doesn’t just affect the economy per se, it also affects the ability to operate your healthcare service effectively.’

Asked whether the Prime Minister should hand over control while ill, Mr Blair replied: ‘I’m not going to second guess them on that. He knows the state of his own condition, and he will be judging it carefully himself, I’m sure.

‘I have every sympathy and solidarity with him. I know it must be a hellish situation to be in.’

The epidemiologist Prof John Newton (above) has been put in charge of the testing drive, but the former Labour PM argued that responsibility should be handed to a politician

The intervention came amid growing concern over whether the UK can meet its goal of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month.

Ministers and scientific advisors admit they did not know when the lockdown would end, saying it depended on whether people obeyed social distancing rules.

At the weekend Matt Hancock strenuously denied rumours of a rift between him and Rishi Sunak over the lockdown.

The Chancellor was said to be pushing for it to be lifted sooner rather than later for the good of the economy, while the Health Secretary is accused of only thinking about the NHS.

But sources said that while the pair had different interests, the two were working well together on a ‘coherent strategy to get the economy going again in the safest possible way’.

The former PM made his comments in the foreword to a report from his Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, which outlines a series of ‘exit strategy’ options.

He said: ‘I do not see a way out of this crisis without mass testing and the development of a clear exit strategy involving testing and tracing, together with innovations in treatment and the use of technology.

‘Exiting lockdown is only possible through a chartered course that finely balances public health and economic considerations…. This is a national debate we need.

‘None of the options are without problems, but it does remain crystal clear that mass testing is fundamental to exiting lockdown. Any other approach is to do this balancing act blind.

‘A road to unacceptable loss of life or financial ruin so grave that it will crush those public services that have performed heroically in this crisis..’

The intervention came amid growing concern over whether the UK can meet its goal of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month. A testing centre is pictured above at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Birmingham

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