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Posted: 2020-03-29 15:15:58

Jeremy Hunt today demanded the government speeds up progress on mass testing - saying it is the fastest way to end the coronavirus lockdown. 

The former health secretary - now chair of the influential Commons health committee - pointed to the regime in place in South Korea, where 'restaurants are open'.  

The call came as Tony Blair warned Britain might have to carry out 180million coronavirus checks to defeat the deadly disease.

The ex-PM said testing will need to carry on for a long time, as even if the outbreak subsides there will be a threat of 'resurgence'.

He said 'virtually everyone' will need to be tested for whether they have coronavirus.

And Mr Blair warned that might need to happen two or three times to combat any return of the outbreak. That could potentially mean in the region of 180million individual tests. 

Cabinet minister Michael Gove confirmed this morning that the number of UK tests per day has reached 10,000. 

At that rate it could take more than 50 years to check the whole 66million-strong population three times - although Mr Gove stressed that the numbers are being urgently increased. 

He declined to give a timescale for when all frontline NHS staff will get access to checks, after small-scale trials were launched. 

And there is still no clear idea when the UK will be conducting the 25,000 tests a day promised by Boris Johnson.  

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt - now chair of the influential Commons health committee - pointed to the regime in place in South Korea, where 'restaurants are open'

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt - now chair of the influential Commons health committee - pointed to the regime in place in South Korea, where 'restaurants are open'

The comments came as Tony Blair warned that nearly everyone in the UK will need to be tests - perhaps two or three times each

The comments came as Tony Blair warned that nearly everyone in the UK will need to be tests - perhaps two or three times each

Mr Gove said Boris Johnson (pictured taking a meeting by video conference yesterday) could still lead the government response despite being infected

Mr Gove said Boris Johnson (pictured taking a meeting by video conference yesterday) could still lead the government response despite being infected 

Mass testing fastest way to end lockdown, says Jeremy Hunt 

Mass testing is the fastest way to end the coronavirus lockdown, according to former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The success countries such as South Korea and Germany have had in using mass testing to curb the spread of the virus should serve as an example, Mr Hunt wrote in The Sunday Telegraph.

'The restaurants are open in South Korea,' he wrote.

'You can go shopping in Taiwan. Offices are open in Singapore.

'These countries learned the hard way how to deal with a pandemic after the deadly Sars virus. They now show us how we can emerge from lockdown.'

Just weeks after it was the second hardest-hit country in Asia, widespread testing has seen South Korea dramatically slow its infection rate, recording just 105 new cases on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Germany has carried out four times as many tests as the UK and recorded only 342 deaths from the virus.

Mr Hunt says this is because mass testing gives authorities greater clarity when it comes to identifying and containing potential outbreaks.

'Where you find it, you can isolate and contain it,' he writes.

'And where you don't, vital services continue to function.

'With mass testing, accompanied by rigorous tracing of every person a Covid-19 patient has been in touch with, you can break the chain of transmission.'

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and other experts have been warning that mass checks are crucial for keeping the spread of the killer disease under control.

Countries like South Korea and China have been praised for their wide-scale testing regimes, which seem to have helped limit cases.  

However, the UK shelved efforts to test everyone with symptoms on March 12, when the response moved into a 'delay' phase.

Instead people who thought they had the illness were urged to self-isolate unless their conditions became so severe they needed medical help. 

Amid criticism, Mr Johnson then declared just under a fortnight ago that there would be a big expansion of tests from under 5,000 a day to 25,000.  

Speaking on Sky News' Sophy Ridge programme, Mr Gove said he could confirm the number of tests per day had now hit 10,000..

'We're going to move to get that up to 25,000 a day and we're doing all that we can to increase and to accelerate that, and I hope that we will be able to test as many frontline workers at the earliest possible stage,' he said.

'We've been working, as I say, with scientists, with the big players in providing medical supplies and drugs, like Boots, and others, in order to increase the number of tests that we have.'  

Mr Hunt said the success countries such as South Korea and Germany have had in using mass testing to curb the spread of the virus should serve as an example, 

'The restaurants are open in South Korea,' he wrote in The Sunday Telegraph.

'You can go shopping in Taiwan. Offices are open in Singapore.

'These countries learned the hard way how to deal with a pandemic after the deadly Sars virus. They now show us how we can emerge from lockdown.'

Mr Blair warned that a 'very large' proportion of the entire population will need to be tested for coronavirus - potentially two or three times.

He said: 'Your risk, obviously, is as you start to ease the lockdown, how do you then deal with any resurgence of the disease? This, of course, is what they're now dealing with in China and South Korea, and elsewhere.

'Unless you have that testing capability that you can apply at scale, and by the way when I say mass testing I mean I actually think you will need to get to the point where you've got the capability, and I assume we're preparing for this now, of testing literally a very large proportion of the entire population.

Britain is finally carrying out 10,000 tests per day to diagnose coronavirus, Michael Gove confirmed today

Britain is finally carrying out 10,000 tests per day to diagnose coronavirus, Michael Gove confirmed today

Labour MP and doctor says 'not fair' PM gets coronavirus test while NHS staff miss out 

A Labour MP and doctor has complained that Boris Johnson had a coronavirus test when NHS staff are not getting access. 

The PM and health secretary Matt Hancock both received a positive diagnosis of the disease last week after developing symptoms. 

Rosena Allin-Khan, who has been working in a hospital during the crisis, said she was 'really disappointed' health workers were not currently being routinely tested for the disease.

'These are the people who are at the front line, these are people who need to know whether or not they have the virus or not,' she told Sky News.

'So, if they feel better, if they're feeling poorly, they can return to work and keep working.'

Dr Allin-Khan said testing this group was important to 'keep their families and communities safe' - adding she would like to see mass testing rolled out as soon as possible.

'It is absolutely urgent that NHS and care staff are tested and they have access to testing immediately,' she said.

'I'm not sure it's entirely fair that senior politicians are having access to testing when frontline NHS staff, who are going in to work night shifts, day shifts, double shifts at the moment, can't get the tests that they need.'

'You may have to do those tests two or three different times because you need all the time to be able to track what's happening with the disease, to learn where, for example, there may be a surge or a hotspot of it, and take immediate action.'

Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan, a doctor who has been working in a hospital during the crisis, said she was 'really disappointed' that NHS staff were not currently being tested for the disease.

'These are the people who are at the front line, these are people who need to know whether or not they have the virus or not,' she told Sky News.

'So, if they feel better, if they're feeling poorly, they can return to work and keep working.'

Dr Allin-Khan said testing this group was important to 'keep their families and communities safe' - adding she would like to see mass testing rolled out as soon as possible.

'It is absolutely urgent that NHS and care staff are tested and they have access to testing immediately,' she said.

'I'm not sure it's entirely fair that senior politicians are having access to testing when frontline NHS staff, who are going in to work night shifts, day shifts, double shifts at the moment, can't get the tests that they need.'

Asked about warnings the government could be forced to escalate 'social distancing' measures, Mr Gove said: 'It's always the case that Government stands ready, if necessary, to do what it takes in order to reduce the spread of infection.

'At the moment, all the evidence is that people are observing the rules, if you look at the number of people on public transport that has fallen, if you look at footfall in supermarkets and other stores that has fallen as well.'

Mr Gove added: 'We keep things under review in order to ensure that if there are further steps they can be implemented.'

The minister said the Government is 'very concerned' by the increase in the number of deaths from coronavirus.

Asked about a steepening in the curve of deaths, the Cabinet Office minister said it was important to maintain the social distancing rules set put by the Government.

He said: 'Well naturally, we're very concerned and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all those who've lost loved ones in the last few days.

'And today's figures remind us how important it is to maintain the social distancing rules that the Government have announced.

'It's absolutely critical that all of us stay at home, that we limit our trips away from home to just one a day for exercise, we limit the amount that we shop. If we do that, we can all play our part in helping the NHS.'

Mr Gove said Mr Johnson was 'very firmly in charge' of the Government following his positive diagnosis.

He said the Prime Minister had chaired a meeting on Friday from his study using 'modern technology'.

'He is very firmly in charge and later this afternoon the Prime Minister will also be hosting another meeting by video conference with the relevant ministers and officials,' he said.

Pressed on who would take over should Mr Johnson's condition deteriorate, Mr Gove said: 'The designated deputy to the Prime Minister is the first Secretary of State, Dominic Raab.'

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