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Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt urges ministers to 'get a move on' with coronavirus contact tracing

Jeremy Hunt

3 min read

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has urged ministers to "get a move on" with contact tracing in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Mr Hunt, who now chairs the Commons Health Select Committee, said tracing those who had potentially been exposed to the virus should become our "next national mission" after ministers vowed to carry out 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month.

Mr Hunt said data from those tests should be used to roll out a mass contact tracing programme similar to South Korea and Germany which have both been successful in keeping coronavirus deaths down.

Mr Hunt said: "This is why contact tracing needs to be our next national mission.

"The countries that have had the biggest success in keeping coroanvirus deaths low are places like Korea and Germany, that haven't just done a lot of testing but they use the data from testing to track down people who have the virus, people they've been in contact with, to isolate and quarantine them as well."

His comments come after Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the government was restarting its tracing programme, unveiling plans for a new NHS app which would alert users when they had had "significant contact" with an infected person.

But Mr Hunt said ministers still needed to make "big decisions" about how to run the scheme to ensure those without access to a smartphone could still be traced.

He added: "And if we are going to use the extra capacity that we now have in testing, which is so welcome, this is the way to do it.

"That means some big decisions - are we going to do it nationally through Public Health England or locally through local councils?

"Are we going to rely on technology, or have people using phones and feet on the ground given that not everyone can download an app.

"Do we want to test our contact tracing in areas of the country with low rates of transmission whilst not undermining our national lockdown messages?"

Meanwhile, the former Conserative leaership hopeful said someone with "proven experience" should be headhunted to run the scheme after ministers appointed former London Olympics chief executive Lord Deighton to spearhead efforts to improve supplies of protective equipment to healthcare workers.

"We also need someone to take responsbility for this," Mr Hunt said.

"We know Paul Deighton is now in charge of sorting out issues in PPE. He will do a fantastic job, I know that having worked with him on London 2012.

"But we also need someone to be responsible for contact tracing. A figure from outside national politics with proven experience of ramping up big projects in a short period of time.

"There are lots of people who can do this but I hope we get a move on so that the Cabinet has a choice to the current national lockdown when they come to review this in just under three weeks' time."

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