Jeremy Hunt: Testing will help avoid second national lockdown

29 September 2020, 14:34 | Updated: 29 September 2020, 15:35

Jeremy Hunt spoke to LBC's Shelagh Fogarty
Jeremy Hunt spoke to LBC's Shelagh Fogarty. Picture: LBC

By Megan White

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said thinks England will avoid a second national lockdown thanks to the increase in testing taking place.

Speaking to LBC's Shelagh Fogarty, the Health and Social Care Select Committee chair said he believed the increase in testing and tracing had put the UK in a "better position by a long, long way than we were" earlier in the pandemic.

Mr Hunt said the Government was moving "much, much faster than it did in March" to contain the spread of the virus, but added that "it’s better to go earlier" if national measures are needed.

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His comments came as the Prime Minister apologised after getting his own rules wrong when asked to clarify the 'rule of six'.

Asked if he had seen any evidence that local lockdown measures were helping to suppress the virus, Mr Hunt said: “The head of the WHO said this morning that local lockdowns and going further, faster, are the best way of ensuring that you don’t have to have national lockdowns.

“I’ve been someone who’s criticised the government’s approach on coronavirus, particularly at the start of the crisis, when we weren’t doing the test and trace that we’re trying to do now.

“But I do think we have to recognise in a pandemic, it’s a very rapidly moving situation, and it is always better to act decisively early if you want to avoid the incredibly damaging national lockdown stay at home measures we had before.”

Asked if we need a more simple “traffic light” system around local lockdowns, which are “illogical” in some places, Mr Hunt said: “I think that’s a fair comment, I think we have learnt over the course of this pandemic that simplicity is very important, that’s why we changed the business of two or three households mixing to the rule of six, which is simple and everyone understands.

“I would rather the government changed tack, did things differently and changed the instructions but ultimately got it right, than we put our head in the sand and end up going back to that full national lockdown.

“I actually don’t think we will end up having a full national lockdown, because we are doing so much more testing and tracing than we’ve done before.

“I suppose if you want an example of why that’s not a totally irrational optimism, think back to May this year, when we had the worst death rate in Europe, and we weren’t doing any community testing.

“In September we’re doing more testing than anywhere in Europe and we’re in the bottom half of the European league table when it comes to deaths.

“There’s a lot more to do, and I think weekly testing in hospitals is a very important part of the equation which is missing, but I do think we’re in a better position by a long, long way than we were.”

But he did say there “may be” when Shelagh asked if there could be an argument for a set of national measures.

Mr Hunt said: “I think that if that is the case, it’s better to go earlier, and you may end up having to do less than waiting too long and the thing gets out of control.

“I think what we’re seeing though is the government moving much, much faster than it did in March – we had those big issues about the Cheltenham Festival, the Champions League match, and so on – and I think they are moving much faster.

“So that’s why they’re getting a lot of criticism from people on the libertarian side of the argument that they weren’t getting back in March.

“All I’d say is if you look at Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, China – the increasingly small number of countries that kept penetration of Covid to less than one or two per cent of the population – they all acted early and quickly, so I think we are acting correctly on that one."