Tony Blair presses for ‘global genomic sequencing’ to act faster on new variants

Former British prime minister also calls for global agreement on travel standards and restrictions

Former British prime minister Tony Blair. PA
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Former British prime minister Tony Blair has urged the international community to “organise global genomic sequencing” to act more quickly on new variants.

Mr Blair called for a “set of travel standards and restrictions around travel or agreements as to what the conditions are for travel that are globally agreed”.

“Now the G7 could have done this; it didn’t. The G20 could have done it; we haven’t done it yet," he told BBC Radio 4.

"It should be done … If you don’t have an agreed set of standards and agreed sharing of data, it’s going to be much, much harder to get the global economy moving again.

“I can’t quite work out why the international community finds this so difficult to grapple with, but in the end unless there are a few leading countries including Britain that really lead this charge, it’s hard to see how we’re going to get through this."

Mr Blair said vaccinations “are the only way out” of the pandemic.

“If you’ve got large populations that are unvaccinated, it’s likely to mutate faster and further," he said. "The failure to organise mass vaccination globally has been a huge problem right throughout this crisis.

“So I think even at this stage it’s possible to change course, but we need to have it organised and so now it’s not just going to be about the supply of vaccines.

“I think over the coming weeks and months we’ll have a large supply of vaccine flowing even to Africa, but we will have to organise the distribution, the logistics and absolutely vitally we’ve got to organise global genomic sequencing so that we know what’s happening in countries.

“This is really important because the faster you know that a new variant has emerged, the easier it is obviously to try and control it."

Mr Blair said there could have been greater vaccine production “some months ago if right at the beginning we’d been repurposing significant amounts of global manufacturing capacity for vaccine towards Covid”.

Launching a new report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, entitled The Urgent Need for Universal Genomic Sequencing: Vaccine Supply is not the only Challenge for Africa, he said there was a “major problem in many African countries with vaccine hesitancy”.

He said that problem “requires, again, a co-ordinated campaign across the world where you’re making it clear vaccination is your only route out”.

Updated: December 05, 2021, 11:29 PM