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Tony Blair says UK was too 'slow' in suppressing coronavirus outbreak

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Tony Blair has said Britain was “slow” in trying to suppress its coronavirus outbreak compared with other countries, as he laid out his recommendations for easing lockdown measures.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, Blair said he had sympathy for those making decisions, but that “we have got to be prepared” to start easing the lockdown.

The ex-prime minister said the government needed a separate senior figure to handle each component of the crisis, including mass testing, tracing and the reopening of schools.

He said: “If you look at each of the components, my suggestion would be that you have a senior figure in charge of these things with a team of experts around them who will be a combination of people from in government and outside and oversight from senior politicians.

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“Mass testing is a critical part of getting out of this, technologies, how you communicate this with the public, inventing vaccines. If you break this down, there has never been a more complicated challenge.”

It comes as his Tony Blair Foundation For Global Change laid out a possible exit plan for easing the lockdown restrictions that were brought in last month.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair gives a speech on the future of the Labour Party and progressive politics at the Hallam Conference Centre in central London, Wednesday Dec. 18, 2019.  The Labour Party has deep divisions within its members following the lack of popular support in the Dec.12 general election. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)
Tony Blair says a restructuring of government is required to deal with the coronavirus crisis. (AP)

“There are two basic phases to tackling the COVID-19 crisis: suppression of the disease; and managed revival of the economy,” he said on Sunday.

“The ‘normal’ that we return to will be a new normal.

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“The suppression is absolutely necessary to save lives; and there will continue for some time to be a raft of rules and restrictions necessary to follow.

“But because of the immense collateral damage done by the lockdown – economic- and health-related – we must ensure that on easing the restrictions, we are fully prepared and ahead of the curve the moment that the medical and scientific advice allows us to start the process.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson points at performers dressed as lions as he welcomes members of the British Chinese community for Chinese New Year celebrations outside 10 Downing Street in London, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. The Chinese New Year will start on Saturday with 2020 being the year of the rat. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Boris Johnson points at performers dressed as lions as he welcomes members of the British Chinese community for Chinese New Year celebrations outside 10 Downing on one of the days the Sunday Times said he should have been at a Cobra meeting on the virus. (AP)

“In the suppression phase we can see with hindsight, that we were slow compared with the best of other countries.

“In this next phase, we must position government to roll out the revival of the economy and as much of normal life as is possible, with efficiency and clarity of strategy.”

Read more: When will the lockdown end?

Blair, who was PM from 1997 to 2007, also said “mask acquisition and production on a vast scale” was “essential” for the safety of frontline staff.

On the development of a vaccine, Blair called for “utilisation of every means nationally and globally to identify those treatments which can reduce the severity of the disease”.

A NHS (National Health Service) worker is tested for Covid-19 at a drive-through testing centre in a car park at Chessington World of Adventures, Greater London, Saturday, April 4, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
An NHS worker is tested for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing centre in a car park at Chessington World of Adventures, Greater London, in early April. (AP)

Blair’s foundation also suggested age segmentation, with younger people at much lower risk being allowed to return to work sooner.

Read more: Britain will be a 'serious country' again after Brexit

His paper comes after Boris Johnson and other ministers including Matt Hancock were heavily criticised by the Sunday Times for the government’s initial response to the crisis.

The publication chronicled perceived failings by the cabinet that led to a shortage in personal protective equipment, missing opportunities to properly prepare for the impact of the virus.

The paper also highlighted the fact that Johnson did not attend the first five Cobra meetings in the run-up to the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.

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It was implied in some instances that his personal life got in the way, with an unnamed source saying he was “missing in action”.

The claims have been denied by the Conservative government, including Michael Gove, who said on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the piece had numerous inaccuracies.

He also said it was not uncommon for a prime minister to miss Cobra meetings.

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