Government slogan should be 'Get Tested' not 'Stay Alert' - former Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is leading demands for coronavirus testing to be stepped up in care homes.

Speaking to Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain, he said: “We have probably lost 12,000 maybe 20,000 lives in old people’s homes and this is heart-breaking, it’s sad, it’s tragic and not, even now, are most workers and most care home residents being tested. We have known about this for more than two months, and even today we cannot say we have tested all those people who may be at risk. This is a disease where people don’t have symptoms even though they are infectious and contagion can rush through an old people’s home so easily and we should have been testing. The fateful decision was made on March 12th not to test people in the community and we have been paying the price of it ever since.”

He added he did not want to rake over what had happened but see what they could do now, moving forward. Mr Brown is now calling for the Scottish and UK governments to convene an urgent virtual summit to agree a joint plan to test, trace and isolate to combat the spread of the disease.

Asked about the reason behind stopping testing in the community, he said: “Well, I think we now know we didn’t have the capacity but then they should have been building up the capacity massively. It’s not just one-off tests that are needed. You need routine testing of health service workers. I’m amazed that every health service worker hasn’t been tested. I'm amazed that every care home worker hasn’t been tested, but routinely tested. So that they are not passing on the disease to every care home resident. People coming into the country should be tested, people who are in contact jobs, who come face to face with people should be tested."

He concluded: “Even now about 3% of the public have been tested. It is not good enough.”

On why we didn’t get testing at the beginning, he said: “You should put it on a wartime footing, it’s like the mass mobilisation of resources.” He said labs should have been set up in the UK and also the army should have been used to help with logistics.

“My sadness is we have lost these two months but now we are in a situation, if we are to prevent a second wave, and to get the R figure down, and to give people reassurance that hand-washing and social distancing is not enough. What we have to do is test on a routine and regular basis all those people who are at risk… I would have said that instead of the slogan ‘Stay Alert’, the slogan should be ‘Get Tested’, and we should be providing the facilities for that to happen.”

He added: “It’s clear that the missing element in the next stage, you can’t end the lockdown without offering people the testing that is necessary to reassure them."

On the government taking ‘advice of the experts’, he said: “If I had said during the 2009 financial crisis that I was simply listening to the experts, people would have laughed at me. You have got to make your own decisions.”

He continued: “I worry about a second wave and the way to prevent a second wave is to do testing… it’s mass testing and it’s routine testing.”

Mr Brown continued: “When Boris Johnson did his broadcast he said hundreds of thousands [of tests]… China tested 11 million people in 11 days… I think we will fail to avoid a second wave successfully unless we ramp up testing.”

He said to make tests happen on this scale, everything had to be channelled into ramping up the number of tests and this included making mobile testing more widely available.

On ministers boycotting GMB, he commented: “Of course it’s not right. Again in 2009 if I hadn’t come on television to explain what was happening, I would have been laughed out of court again. You’ve got to come and explain.”

He said people needed to have clear explanations to make policies work. 

Speaking about the government admitting they had made some mistakes, he said: “We had to admit mistakes when mistakes were made. We should admit mistakes and mistakes have been made… but if we are going to avoid the problems continuing in the future we have to be ahead of the curve and we are not ahead of the curve on testing. 

He added we also needed to get ahead of the curve when it came to service industries and helping them to survive.

On what he would do to help struggling businesses, he said: “We didn’t anticipate on testing, we are not anticipating on the threat to businesses once the loans run out… we should set up a British investment bank or growth fund...I fear a wave of bankruptcies or redundancies at the end of the period…”

He said he had spoken to some conservative MPs but that he had not had a call from the Chancellor. On the idea of former Prime Ministers being called on for advice, he said that other governments had come to him.

 “This is about the future of the country, it’s not about party politics. I hesitate to be critical because I want to be constructive… we have now got to be thinking how we preempt a second wave of this,” he said.

Asked if Boris Johnson has ‘got a grip’ of the crisis, he said: “You have got to make allowance for the fact that he was really ill... but yes, he’s got to get a grip of testing and get a grip of what’s going to happen to the economy as it moves forward. All these problems lie ahead.”

 He concluded he wanted Boris Johnson to come to the House of Parliament and explain how he was going to secure more testing and save viable businesses.