Tony Blair: Virtually impossible to get track and trace working effectively without mass testing

Sophia Sleigh
PA

Tony Blair has claimed it will be “virtually impossible” to get track and trace working effectively unless the government brings in mass testing.

The former Labour Prime Minister is calling on the government to adopt a mass coronavirus testing regime which would allow the bulk of the population to be tested.

Mr Blair warned that the UK is now unlocking restrictions when Covid-19 levels remain "stubbornly high". 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.

It comes amid rumours that the NHS Test and Trace system is not expected to be “world class” until at least September.

Face coverings will be required on public transport from June 15 (via Getty Images)

Mr Blair told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “I think they’ve got to go back to what was their original strategy published back in April which was to have mass testing.

“They’ve departed from that and 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.

“And I think it’s going to be – I would say – virtually impossible to make track and trace work effectively unless you are combining it with mass testing.”

The New Labour PM, who won three General Elections, said if the system only tested those showing symptoms it could miss a lot of the people who are asymptomatic.

He said the most important thing the government should be preparing was a containment strategy and added: “It’s not just a question of how we ease the lockdown today. My anxiety is what happens if there is a resurgence of the disease in October-November?

“The problem with the UK, I’m afraid, is that our situation is worse than comparable countries.

“Yesterday we had almost 1,900 confirmed cases. That is more than France, Italy, Spain and Germany put together. Our death rate is still significantly above others and yet we are easing.

“So we are easing the lockdown in circumstances where we are 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.”

Grant Shapps defended the test and trace scheme this morning (10 Downing Street)

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the test and trace system this morning after one of the programme's senior executives said it will not be "world class" until at least September.

Tony Prestedge, the scheme's chief operating officer, admitted in a webinar that the programme would not be world-beating until September or October, the Guardian reported.

But Mr Shapps said that Mr Prestedge was talking specifically about the app, which is not now due to be rolled out until the end of the month.

Mr Shapps said: "The NHS Test and Trace system, let's just be clear about what is there now, anybody who feels ill - you don't have to be in a particular category, you don't have to be a key worker - with coronavirus symptoms can now go to gov.uk or the NHS website and book a test, it is that straightforward.

"And because the capacity is there with tests in very large numbers - in fact, probably some of the largest numbers in the world now - that is freely available."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "The new NHS Test and Trace service is up and running and is helping save lives.

"Anyone in this country can now book a test and the majority who book a test get the results back within a day.

"We have over 25,000 contact tracers in place, who have all been trained and are fully supported in their work by public health experts."

Read more

‘Just 1,749 people contacted’ in first four days of NHS Test and Trace

Frustration as contact tracers complain about having 'nothing to do'

Test-and-trace system won't be fully operational for 'period of time'