Coronavirus: Tony Blair says government is 'overwhelmed' by crisis and calls for mass testing

·3-min read

Tony Blair has said the government is overwhelmed with the coronavirus crisis and called for mass testing.

The former prime minister said on Wednesday a vaccine could be “a long way away” and so testing had to be a priority.

Recalling his time dealing with foot-and-mouth disease as PM, he told Good Morning Britain: “To be frank about it, for the first few weeks we were behind the curve, but what I learnt is that you just have to set aside all the normal rules and bureaucracy and just reposition the government differently.”

He added: "You have got to get the point where you have the capability of dealing with all the different dimensions and not getting overwhelmed."

Read more: Piers Morgan and care minister in heated on-air row over coronavirus testing

On the current outbreak, Blair said: “All of us know people who are serious people with capabilities to offer who are have been trying to fight their way into the system to offer them – and that is what makes me think we are not yet organised in the right way for the scale of this thing so that every possible avenue is being explored.”

He stressed it was important authorities had correct testing in place and said the “suppression” phase of the disease was less difficult than exiting lockdown.

Former prime minister Tony Blair during a speech to mark the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Labour party, in the Great Hall at King's College, London. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
Tony Blair has suggested the government may have become overwhelmed by the coronavirus crisis. (Getty)

Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice

Live: Follow all the latest updates from the UK and around the world

Fact-checker: The number of COVID-19 cases in your local area

6 charts and maps that explain how COVID-19 is spreading

Blair said: “How you exit is really, really complicated and unless you have the right skill set there at the centre of government right from the very beginning, then it’s going to be very hard to do things like mass testing, which I can’t see any other way out of this.”

The government was accused of being slow to respond to the coronavirus crisis at Parliament’s first ever virtual Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, as foreign secretary Dominic Raab faced questions on testing and protection for NHS and care workers from new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Raab – deputising for Boris Johnson, who is continuing his recovery from COVID-19 – faced Starmer in a sparsely attended House of Commons while the majority of MPs participated remotely.

Starmer questioned the government’s progress towards its target of carrying out 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month, and claimed opportunities to acquire personal protective equipment from British firms had been missed.

Read more: Government faces huge backlash after U-turn letter about EU ventilator scheme

Ministers have repeatedly insisted the target will be met, and Raab said: “Those tests will be crucial not just in terms of controlling the virus but allowing the country to move to the next phase.”

He said mobile labs were now being used, and that the army is also helping to get tests to where they are needed.

Coronavirus: what happened today?

Click here to sign up to the latest news, advice and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter