Tony Blair: Mass testing of population for COVID-19 essential to prevent second lockdown

Ross McGuinness
·3-min read
File photo dated 20/02/20 of Tony Blair. An Iraqi citizen has failed in a High Court bid to prosecute the former prime minister over radioactive ammunition used during the Iraq war.
Former prime minister Tony Blair said mass testing is needed to avoid a second lockdown. (PA)

A mass testing regime is needed to avoid a second coronavirus lockdown, Tony Blair has said.

The former prime minister said testing the general population for COVID-19 is the only way to control its spread in the absence of a vaccine or effective treatment.

Blair told Times Radio on Tuesday: “On some estimates, 70% of people with the disease are asymptomatic, so if you are only testing people with symptoms you are losing the majority of people from your testing strategy.

“From the very beginning, mass testing has been the only thing that gets you through this, avoids the severity of the very blunt instrument of lockdown and gets you to a place where you can more or less get your economy moving whilst containing the disease.”

Blair praised the government for increasing testing availability but said more needs to be done, including making sure the existing capacity is actually used.

On Tuesday, junior local government minister Simon Clarke insisted that reopening schools in autumn was “not up for debate”, and that it would go ahead as planned despite concerns from scientists that the NHS Test and Trace system is not adequate enough to prevent a second wave after pupils do return.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) warned that reopening schools could trigger a serious second COVID-19 peak unless testing and tracing is scaled up.

Their study modelled various scenarios and found that in the worst case, a second wave in December could be 2.3 times higher than the first.

Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organization (WHO) special envoy on COVID-19, warned that if NHS Test and Trace is “not done properly, then you get very bad surges occurring”.

A medical worker takes a swab at a drive-in coronavirus testing facility at the Chessington World of Adventures Resort in Chessington, England, Wednesday April 29, 2020. Coronavirus testing is now available for more people in England from Wednesday as the government relaxed rules on eligibility. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)
Tony Blair said mass testing of the general population is essential. (PA via AP)

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that coronavirus “is not going away” and will “multiply, multiply and multiply”, given the chance.

“This virus is capable of surging back really quickly, and is actually doing so in most countries where there’s been success and getting it under control,” he said.

“And as it surges back, the way you stop outbreaks developing is through having well-functioning contact tracing linked to testing with isolating people who have got symptoms or who’ve been in contact.

“If we can do that and do it well, then the surges are kept really small. They’re dealt with quickly and life can go on.

“If on the other hand, the testing and tracing and isolation is not done properly then you get very bad surges occurring. And this will lead to economic challenges.”

Data published on Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that 51,596 deaths involving COVID-19 occurred in England and Wales up to 24 July, and had been registered by 1 August.

When added to figures in Scotland and Northern Ireland, it means there have been 56,651 deaths registered in the UK where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including suspected cases.

Coronavirus: what happened today
Click here to sign up to the latest news and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter