Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned Britain has lost track of the coronavirus crisis because of its controversial testing scheme.
Mr Hunt warned one million Britons will have caught the life-threatening infection by the end of next week, as the outbreak continues to spiral out of control.
But he questioned the UK’s policy to only test patients in the hospital, asking: ‘How can we possibly suppress the virus if we don’t where it is?’
The UK has repeatedly been slammed for its lacklustre approach to testing people for the virus, which has infected almost 400,000 people worldwide.
In Britain routine tests are only given to people so ill they have to go into hospital, or those who are already on wards – even NHS staff don’t get tested.
Last night it was revealed the army had been sent to seize testing machines from private labs and universities in a desperate attempt to get NHS medics tested.
Without knowing if they have the virus, health workers face going into isolation for up to two weeks if they show symptoms of the virus – tests could release them early.
Only 5,000 patients are tested for the deadly virus each day in the UK – despite the Government promising it would ramp up its daily capacity to 25,000.
This means the official tally of coronavirus patients (6,650) is much lower than the reality, with the true size of the outbreak currently being hidden.
Mr Hunt told the House of Commons Britain currently had around 300,000 cases – a scientific estimate based on 1,000 cases for every death (335 in the UK).
And in a stark warning, he admitted it may to ‘too late to avoid Italy’, which has seen more than 60,000 cases and 6,000 deaths.
Mr Hunt, who was the longest-serving Health Secretary before Matt Hancock took over in 2018, told MPs: ‘All our public focus has on social distancing.
‘But testing and contact tracing to break the chain of transmission is every bit as important if not more important.
‘South Korea avoided national lockdown despite having a worse outbreak initially than us.
‘Taiwan introduced temperature scanning in malls and office buildings but kept shops and restaurants open, they’ve had just two deaths.
‘In Singapore restaurants remain open and schools reopening.
‘But 10 days ago in this country we went in the opposite direction and stopped testing in the community.
Mr Hunt added: ‘How can we possibly suppress the virus if we don’t know where it is?’
He said that the infection toll was likely to double every five days, meaning more than one million patients would be infected by the end of next week.
And Mr Hunt added: ‘Unless we radically change direction, we won’t know where they are.’
Former leader of the Conservative party, William Hague said large-scale testing needs to ‘become the norm’, like seen in Singapore and South Korea.
In a comment piece for The Telegraph, he said: ‘Ministers have spoken of the availability in the near future of tests for the antibodies that will show who has had the virus and enjoys some immunity to it.
‘Those people should then be back at work and free to travel. More widely, rigorous testing for the virus itself, and the ruthless isolating of anyone suffering from it and tracking of all their recent contacts, need to become the norm once the pandemic is on a more manageable scale.
‘This has been the approach of Singapore and South Korea, and it is better than long term constraints on the whole population.’