The president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has called on the government to use Britain’s second lockdown to roll-out a rapid mass COVID-19 testing programme.
Lord Bilimoria said the type of rapid testing being used in the Premier League would help Britain to reopen its economy without fear of future lockdowns.
“We need to use these next four weeks of lockdown to roll out rapid mass testing at speed,” the CBI president said in a keynote speech at the business group’s annual conference on Tuesday.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson said in a speech in September that the government was working on “moonshot” plans to test millions of people every day, identifying people who don’t have the virus as well as those that do to allow uninfected people to lead normal lives. The rapid, regular screening programme would allow the government to track the virus in real time and isolate only those who were infected, rather than shutting down whole regions or the entire country.
Watch: Matt Hancock jeered by MPs as he outlines ‘Operation Moonshot’
The first stages of this plan are set to be trialled in Liverpool, starting later this week. Communities secretary Robert Jenrick told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday: “We’ll be looking to roll this out in other towns and cities, and make millions more of these rapid tests available for Christmas.”
Lord Bilimoria said the Operation Moonshot plans were “spot on” and the trials in Liverpool offered a “chink of light.”
However, the CBI President warned that businesses face a “tough, bleak winter ahead” in the meantime.
Lord Bilimoria praised the government for launching “one of the most ambitious rescue packages in the world” at the start of the crisis but said businesses needed more support now to help them through the second lockdown.
“Government must build a robust bridge to the other side of this pandemic,” he said. “We must save lives and livelihoods.”
Lord Bilimoria, who made his name founding the Cobra beer brewery, called on the government to commit to extending furlough for as long as lockdowns were in place. The Treasury has extended furlough through November. That is currently in-line with the planned second lockdown but the government has raised the prospect of extending the shutdown if COVID-19 cases do not slow.
Businesses cannot cope with “rolling cliff edges” like this, Lord Bilimoria said. Extending the furlough commitment and building a “bridge” to the job support scheme would help to “flatten the curve” of unemployment, he said.
Lord Bilimoria added that it was “now more than ever” important to strike a Brexit trade deal with the EU, given the pandemic. 80% of the CBI’s members support a deal with the EU.
Watch: Business Minister 'concerned' over MP claims that northern England regions are being left behind