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Tony Blair eyes Covid-19 comeback with secret UK government meetings

Reports the former UK prime minister met British Health Secretary Matt Hancock and head of coronavirus tracing programme

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair says Britain’s immunisation drive must be stepped up. Reuters
Former UK prime minister Tony Blair says Britain’s immunisation drive must be stepped up. Reuters

Former British prime minister Tony Blair is secretly advising the current British government on its Covid-19 response, including meetings with Health Secretary Matt Hancock, The Sunday Times reported.

He also spoke to the head of the National Health Service’s Test and Trace programme, Dido Harding, and Steve Bates, a member of the vaccine task force.

Mr Blair served as Labour prime minister for 10 years, leaving a complicated legacy including introducing a minimum wage and taking the country into the Second Gulf War in Iraq.

His latest foray into politics is being seen as a “de Gaulle-style comeback”, The Sunday Times reported.

Former French president Charles de Gaulle returned to power 13 years after heading two successive provisional governments at the end of the Second World War. A truce was reached in the Algerian War under his leadership, securing his legacy as a peacemaker.

Mr Blair has shown an increasing interest in solving global challenges such as climate change, and now the coronavirus crisis.

He told The National in December that his think tank, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, has expanded its work helping governments reform during the pandemic, but that the global community has missed opportunities to collaborate against the spread of the disease.

“I believe we’ve probably added several months to the severity of this disease, to its length, and also its severity as a result of the absence of co-operation,” he said.

“It’s not about denying your country’s interest to satisfy someone else’s, it’s about recognising – especially if you’ve got a global problem – that if you co-operate globally, you’re likely to deal with it more effectively.”

Last week the Institute for Global Change released its blueprint to overhaul the UK’s vaccine strategy, and Mr Blair called for five million people to be inoculated per week.

“If I was the prime minister right now, I would be saying to the team in Downing Street: ‘I need you to give me a plan to get this up to five million a week’, provided we’ve got the vaccine available, and we should have them available,” he told Times Radio.

“AstraZeneca will, not this week or next week but the week after, be able to get up to two million doses a week – that’s just AstraZeneca.

“They could probably do more if they knew that the system was capable of absorbing the amount of vaccines that they would produce.”

Most of the vaccines for Covid-19, which has ravaged the world for the past year and killed almost two million people, require two doses taken three or four weeks apart. Mr Blair has advocated prioritising inoculating as many people as possible with the first dose, even if it means delays in handing out the second one.

A spokeswoman for Mr Blair told The Sunday Times he “has spoken privately to others in government and is happy to help in any way he can”.

Looking forward, Mr Blair sounded a warning that lessons must be learnt from Covid-19 to prevent future outbreaks.

“I think one of the big tasks for 2021 will be to get that global co-operation and say: What has this pandemic taught us about the shortcomings of the international health preparedness system? And how do we plug those and change the system to make it more effective in the future?” he told The National.

“Because the one thing for sure, from every expert I talked to, is this is not the last pandemic we will face.”

Updated: January 11, 2021 07:47 PM

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