TONY Blair has warned the world will have “live with” coronavirus and suggested we’ll all be wearing masks and social distancing for some time.
The former Prime Minister said Covid-19 is not going to be “eliminated” any time soon and warned of a “50/50” chance the virus is going to return with a vengeance in the autumn.
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He said: “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.”
Mr Blair – who served as Labour’s last PM from 1997 to 2007 – said it was “absolutely essential” to step up preparations for a second wave in 2020.
He described the coronavirus crisis as “the biggest challenge logistically and practically” a government has ever faced.
However, he criticised ministers for not yet putting in place an “infrastructure of containment”.
His think-tank The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change also recommended widespread mask-wearing to prevent a spike in cases.
Britain has today rolled out new laws which requires shoppers to wear masks in England, with coverings already compulsory on public transport such as trains.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted the UK is taking “every reasonable step” to prepare for a surge in virus cases in the autumn.
Mr Blair however warned more infrastructure to stop the spread of the virus was critical as another national lockdown would not be possible.
Downing Street has already said that he believes another national lockdown will be avoided due to swift action stamping out local outbreaks.
The ex-PM 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.”
Mr Blair added: “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.”
The report by his think-tank calls for a rebuilding of public confidence based on the knowledge that “every possible step has been taken to mitigate risk”.
It argues containment measures have be introduced in the absence of a “game-changer” – such as a vaccine or treatment, with warnings an inoculation could not be ready until 2022.
Widespread mass testing, mandatory mask wearing and an individual risk categorisation system are proposed in the report.
Category A would show those most at risk, with people with low health risks and a low transmission risk in category D.
The report also recommends that the Government issue those most at risk with N95 face masks.
Mr Blair said the government was “too slow” to lockdown, though said he understood why ministers were “hesitant” to take such severe measures.
He added however it would “unforgivable” for the government to go forward without putting in place containment infrastructure.
“It is now clear what you have to do to prepare and we should prepare,” Mr Blair added.
He said: “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.”
Mr Blair said the Government should be collecting more data to help improve the understanding of treating coronavirus and preventing its spread.
He explained: “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’.”
Mr Johnson has previously described coronavirus as a “circling shark in the water” as he urged people to take precautions amid fears of a second wave – with scientists warning ti could kille 120,000.
However, the PM has been keen to try get life back to normal as shops and pubs reopened while people were urged to get back to work following three months of lockdown first introduced in March.
He has described the second national lockdown as a “nuclear deterrent” and said councils have been given “lightning” powers to stamp out local outbreaks.
The UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance meanwhile has warned of a “risk” of a new lockdown required come the winter.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has previously accused Mr Johnson of being “blind to the risk” of easing the coronavirus lockdown.