"We treated coronavirus like the flu": Jeremy Hunt on the "main lessons" government will learn

1 May 2020, 15:15 | Updated: 1 May 2020, 15:23

By Fiona Jones

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told LBC what "main lessons" the government will learn from this global pandemic.

Matt Hancock began the month by pledging 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April and figures are pending release on whether this target has been met.

Jeremy Hunt, Chair of the Health Select Committee told LBC no matter what the final figures are, he is "heartened" by the progress made on coronavirus testing in the UK.

He said, "It doesn't matter whether it's above or below 100,000, the fact is we are able to test now at South Korean or German levels. That's a massive change to where we were just four weeks ago.

"I think Matt Hancock does deserve a lot of credit. I know how much flack you get in those positions but actually this is a big change. It means the Cabinet has an option to the current very Draconian lockdown. I think this is a very exciting moment."

The UK now has the capacity to test someone with symptoms and anyone they come into contact with - this will mean only those infected will be isolating and the country's economy can move forward, Mr Hunt told Shelagh.

Shelagh asked Mr Hunt if he believed the UK was ill-prepared for the kind of testing needed to overcome Covid-19, after Greg Clarke, Chair of Science and Technology Committee, told LBC he believed this to be true.

Matt Hancock pledged 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April
Matt Hancock pledged 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April. Picture: PA

"I do accept that Britain alongside most countries in Europe, alongside the United States, we had in our minds the need to prepare for a pandemic flu virus.

"The Asian countries that had the memory of SARS and MERS that was very different and deadly viruses....they had a different approach because they were so chastened by the memory of those viruses. So I think it's one of the big learnings we'll have.

"With flu, you basically can't stop it so you end up accepting it's going to spread more widely but SARS is so deadly that you just take a very different approach. I think Greg is right to say that is one of the main lessons that will come out of this."

Shelagh pointed out the UK did not take heed from the Asian countries and react similarly.

Mr Hunt responded that we did not have SARS in 2003 or MERS in 2014-15 to the same extent: "When the history is written of this, that's one of the things that we'll learn."

He continued another takeaway is the "NHS actually scaled up its capacity much more quickly than people thought and we avoided that terrible pressure on intensive care units that we saw in northern Italy... with the Nightingale hospitals.

"We learnt that we were able to scale up our testing capacity in a matter of four weeks. So I think there are lots of things we can be very proud of but...yes I think that we will say most Western countries were better prepared for a flu-like virus than a SARS like one."