An extra 300,000 coronavirus tests could be carried out every day within a few weeks if the Government brings on stream rapid antigen testing, Tony Blair has said.
The former prime minister conceded that the tests may be less accurate than laboratory-based ones, but urged Boris Johnson not to “let the best be the enemy of the good”.
Mr Blair said the rapid tests, which can provide a result within around 15 minutes, were already available and that positive results could be checked with lab-based tests.
He made the recommendation in a foreword to a report on finding a realistic route to mass testing by his think tank, the Tony Blair Institute.
Mr Blair said: “A debate needs to be had on the objective of testing and how this impacts the accuracy requirements for the new tests we can bring online.
“At its simplest, we argue that tests should be validated based on their ability to identify if someone is infectious rather than if someone simply has the virus.
“This new development is critical to bringing onboard a series of new, rapid antigen tests that are available now.
“We accept these are less accurate than the lab-based tests that are being used across the country but they are good enough for mass testing.
“Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.”
He continued: “When this crucial distinction between the role of tests is made, it unlocks a tranche of new, rapid tests that can be brought online now.
“These would boost existing capacity and could be rolled out across care homes, universities, schools, airports and large employers.
“Testing the entire country every day is a vast distance away, but a phased approach, starting with this regular testing across key sectors, is within our grasp.
“We must act decisively, and we must act now.”
The report states: “From conversations with well-placed sources we believe lab testing can be expanded, potentially by around 300,000 tests per day within the next few weeks.
“This would take lab-testing capacity to almost 700,000 tests per day.”
Under the proposal, people who test positive with a rapid test would qualify for a lab-based test.
If that confirms a positive result, then the person would self-isolate.
If they tested negative, they would not need to quarantine.
The think tank also proposes using antibody testing more effectively, with key workers removed from the mass testing regime for 90 days if they are found to have coronavirus antibodies.
Currently, many key workers are tested for Covid-19 on a weekly basis.
It also suggests prioritising access to testing, deploying mobile, saliva-based testing lorries, and using international laboratories with RAF help to ensure results are turned around within a day.