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Fri, 14 August 2020

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Coronavirus: Jeremy Hunt says UK should have locked down, started wearing masks and set up tracing system earlier

Coronavirus: Jeremy Hunt says UK should have locked down, started wearing masks and set up tracing system earlier

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt (Credit: PA)

2 min read

The UK should have locked down, ordered the wearing of facemasks and set up a test and trace system earlier when the coronavirus pandemic hit, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

Boris Johnson's party leadership rival said "with hindsight" the government should have taken swifter action to implement measures to slow the spread of the virus "much earlier than we did".

"But these were mistakes made by governments all over the world," he added.

Mr Hunt, who served as health secretary for six years until 2018, told a webinar hosted by Politico: "The thing we need to do is to get away from this blame culture, of continually wanting to point fingers and understand what mistakes were made and recognise it may not necessarily be any individual who is responsible.

"Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock were following advice they were getting from Sage...We were not the only country in the world to make those mistakes."

Mr Hunt said he believed scientific modelling carried out before the illness took hold in the UK should have examined a test and trace system, rather than focusing solely on "extreme lockdown" or herd immunity.

The South West Surrey MP also said Europe should have "paid more attention to what was happening in Asia" due to the continent's experience with similar viruses, such as SARS and MERS. 

"They have had the experience of a coronavirus pandemic and we haven’t," he added. "The countries who experienced those viruses really learned from them."

Meanwhile, latest figures show the NHS test and trace system has failed to reach nearly 30% of people infected with coronavirus.

From June 11 to 17, staff were asked to contact 6,923 people who had tested positive, but only 4,869 were traced.

Mr Hancock announced last week that the government was abandoning its original test and trace app system because the technology did not work properly.

And Mr Hunt, a former tech entrepreneur, said: "I always felt from the beginning we should not rely on an app.  I'm well aware of the excitement and thrill of new technological development potentially solving all your problems."

He added: "They can help a bit, but we don’t want to count on them."

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