Tony Blair: Coronavirus will not be eliminated and we must learn to live with it

Coronavirus will not be eliminated and Britons must learn to live with it, Tony Blair warned as he urged the Government to focus on containment measures to see the country through a second wave.

The former prime minister said infrastructure to stop the spread of the virus was critical as another national lockdown would not be possible, suggesting that people instead need to learn to live safely with the virus.

In an exclusive interview with the PA news agency, Mr Blair described the crisis as "the biggest challenge logistically and practically" a government has ever faced, but criticised ministers for not yet putting in place an "infrastructure of containment".

He said: "The reality is that we're going to be living with Covid-19 – we're not really going to be able to eliminate it.

"And when you look at what has been happening in other countries, as lockdown has been eased, then more and more problems have appeared and many countries, having gone into lockdown then easing it, are finding spikes in the disease.

"You can't be sure of this but there's at least a 50/50 chance that you have a resurgence of the disease in the autumn and that's why it is absolutely essential now to prepare for that.

"And to put in place every single last bit of containment infrastructure that you possibly can to make sure that if that happens you are able to control the disease, because you're not going to be able to go back into the lockdown that we endured in March, April and May."

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Tony Blair in recent years
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Tony Blair in recent years
Former prime minister Tony Blair during a speech to mark the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Labour party, in the Great Hall at King's College, London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair, arrives for the funeral of Frank Dobson at St Pancras Church in London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair on stage during the Final Say rally at the Mermaid Theatre, London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street arriving for the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London.
File photo dated 02/09/19 of former prime minister Tony Blair, who has said Tory and Labour MPs would both face a "big risk" by fighting a general election on the issue of Brexit.
Former prime minister Tony Blair, during a Service of Thanksgiving for the life and work of Lord Ashdown at Westminster Abbey in London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair gives a speech at the Institute for Government in central London where he will call for Labour to oppose any move by Boris Johnson to hold an emergency general election until Brexit has been resolved.
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks alongside former prime ministers David Cameron, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown and former leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg during a service of thanksgiving for the life and work of former Cabinet Secretary Lord Heywood at Westminster Abbey in London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair with Prime Minister Theresa May as they leave following a service of thanksgiving for the life and work of former Cabinet Secretary Lord Heywood at Westminster Abbey in London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair makes a speech on Brexit at the British Academy in London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair during the remembrance service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London, on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice which marked the end of the First World War.
Lisbon, 07/11/2018 - Web Summit 2018 was held at the Altice Arena in Lisbon from 5 to 8 November. Tony Blair (Filipe Amorim / Global Imagens)
Former prime minister Tony Blair speaking at the launch of the Resolution Foundation's annual Living Standards Audit in central London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair arrives to give a speech on poverty and inequality at the launch of the Resolution Foundation's annual Living Standards Audit in central London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair talking about the Good Friday Agreement in London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair in conversation with Professor Anand Menon during the Changing Europe conference on Brexit in central London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking during the Changing Europe conference on Brexit in central London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie walk through Downing Street on their way to the annual Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London.
Tony Blair addresses a conference on Brexit in the Druids Glen Hotel, Wicklow, Ireland.
Tony Blair at a Brexit meeting in Wicklow, Ireland.
Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair addressing the 2017 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2017. (Photo by Michael Brochstein) *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair during his speech on Brexit at an Open Britain event in central London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair holds a press conference at Admiralty House, London, where responding to the Chilcot report he said: "I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe."
Former prime minister Tony Blair and wife Cherie arrive at St Paul's Cathedral in London for a national service of thanksgiving to celebrate the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II.
Former prime ministers Sir John Major (left) and Tony Blair walk across the Peace Bridge in Londonderry following a Remain campaign event at the University of Ulster in Londonderry.
Former prime minister Tony Blair during a Remain campaign event at the University of Ulster in Londonderry.
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A new report by his think tank, the Tony Blair Institute, calls for public confidence to be rebuilt "on the knowledge that every possible step has been taken to mitigate risk" – requiring containment measures in the absence of a "game changer" vaccine or treatment.

It recommends the rollout of mass testing, mandated use of face masks in all enclosed public environments, and suggests introducing an individual risk categorisation – with A showing those most at risk, to people with low health risks and a low transmission risk in category D.

The proposed categories would correlate to measures such as participation in mass testing and mandatory mask wearing for those with low health risks and high risks of transmission. The report also recommends that the Government issue those most at risk with N95 face masks.

Mr Blair said: "The purpose of our suggesting that you categorise people according to their risk is not because that means that if you are a lower risk that you shouldn't take precautions, because you need to because you can spread the disease.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

"But those people who are in what we call the A and B category where you are at significant risk, then it is actually part of the Government's duty to help people with the measures that they need to protect themselves.

"So for example providing reusable masks for people who are especially at risk, making sure that for example people working in certain environments have shields... and making sure that those types of people also can get tested when and if they want to."

The former Labour leader also reiterated his call for the Government to roll out mass testing, including of those who may not realise they have coronavirus.

"If you're only testing the people with symptoms, it is very important to do that of course, but you are missing asymptomatic people and you are missing pre-symptomatic people and often part of the biggest problem with the disease are pre-symptomatic people," he explained.

Mr Blair said the Government was "too slow" to lock down, though said he understood why people were "hesitant" to take such severe measures with their economy.

But he went on: "What isn't forgivable going forward is not to build this containment infrastructure on the basis that you are at significant risk of further spikes of the disease and possibly a resurgence in the autumn.

"You've got the time to prepare. You've got to take that time and use it properly. And my anxiety about the Government at the moment is that it has still not really put in place that infrastructure of containment that is going to see us through a resurgence of the disease if unfortunately that happens.

"And really you can't excuse that because it is now clear what you have to do to prepare and we should prepare."

Mr Blair said the Government should be collecting more data to help improve the understanding of treating coronavirus and preventing its spread, and recommended ministers provide face masks of the required quality to those that need them.

"We're still several marks below in my view of what we need to do and where we need to be if we should be unfortunate enough to have this resurgence...

"The simple truth of the coronavirus is that if you think back at the very beginning there were debates about whether we go for herd immunity and in the end rightly people rejected that and said 'no, we've got to go to try and knock the disease out'.

"I think the common understanding... is that you're not going to eliminate it, you're going to have to live with it. So the question is how do you control it, because if you have to live with it and you can't control it, you actually are going to go back into all the arguments around herd immunity because inevitably that's where you'll be.

"So the question is: what are the measures you need to put in place to control it, realising that its elimination is probably not possible."

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