Blair presses for ‘global genomic sequencing’ to act faster on new variants

The former prime minister was launching a new report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
The former prime minister was launching a new report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

Labour former prime minister Tony Blair has urged the international community to “organise global genomic sequencing” to act faster on new variants.

Mr Blair called for a “set of travel standards and restrictions around travel or agreements as to what the conditions are for travel that are globally agreed”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend programme: “Now the G7 could have done this, it didn’t, the G20 could have done it, we haven’t done it yet. It should be done … If you don’t have an agreed set of standards and agreed sharing of data, it’s going to be much, much harder to get the global economy moving again.”

On the global response to Covid, he said: “I can’t quite work out why the international community finds this so difficult to grapple with, but in the end unless there are a few leading countries including Britain that really lead this charge, it’s hard to see how we’re going to get through this.”

Vaccinations he said “are the only way out of” the pandemic, adding: “If you’ve got large populations that are unvaccinated, it’s likely to mutate faster and further. The failure to organise mass vaccination globally has been a huge problem right throughout this crisis.”

He continued: “So I think even at this stage it’s possible to change course, but we need to have it organised and so now it’s not just going to be about the supply of vaccines.

“I think over the coming weeks and months, we’ll have a large supply of vaccine flowing even to Africa but we will have to organise the distribution, the logistics and absolutely vitally we’ve got to organise global genomic sequencing so that we know what’s happening in countries.”

He added: “This is really important because the faster you know that a new variant has emerged, the easier it is obviously to try and control it.”

Mr Blair said there could have been greater vaccine manufacturing capacity “some months ago if right at the beginning we’d been repurposing significant amounts of global manufacturing capacity for vaccine towards Covid”.

Launching a new report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, entitled The Urgent Need For Universal Genomic Sequencing: Vaccine Supply Is Not The Only Challenge For Africa, Mr Blair warned there was a “major problem in many African countries with vaccine hesitancy”.

The issue of vaccine hesitancy, he added, “requires again a co-ordinated campaign across the world where you’re making it clear vaccination is your only route out”.

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