Coronavirus: Tax rises are inevitable and there's been too many government U-turns, Jeremy Hunt tells ITV News

Watch the full episode of the Acting Prime Minister podcast with Jeremy Hunt

It is "inevitable" that the government will increase taxes in order to pay for the huge cost of the coronavirus crisis, Jeremy Hunt has told the ITV News podcast Acting Prime Minister.

The former health secretary said he'd be "surprised" if they were raised in the near future, but said he believes the autumn spending review may see a "few signals from the chancellor that tax rises are going to have to come".

"I think they are inevitable," he told podcast host Paul Brand.

"I think we will try very hard to make sure that wealthier people bear the brunt of those tax rises but I think we have to be honest we may not be able to just put the pain on the very highest earning because the revenue pace may just not be big enough."

The former Cabinet minister, who now chairs the Health and Social Care Committee also criticised the government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jeremy Hunt on 'inevitable' tax rises:

He said Boris Johnson - who Mr Hunt lost out to in the race to become Conservative leader in July 2019 - has made too many U-turns during the coronavirus crisis but accepted scientific advice often changes during a pandemic.

On the number of U-turns, he said: "It’s obviously too high and it’s something that they need to sort out but I think we have a combination of two things that have led to this.

"One of them is a new government and a new prime minster and a largely new Cabinet and that means that many Cabinet minsters are just reading themselves into their briefs.

"The second thing is a pandemic which means that scientific advice changes. There is a degree of risk. Judgments change much more quickly than in normal times."

He said a way to reduce the impact of the pandemic before a vaccine becomes available would be to introduce "population testing" which he said would involve testing the majority of the UK once a week.

He admitted it would be a "very big ask" to increase testing capacity to several million a week, but said if it could be achieved it would alleviate the need for such stringent social distancing rules.

He suggested an intermediate step in which the government could test all teachers and NHS staff every week so people can be "absolutely confident when they’re using hospitals, when they’re sending their kids to school, that they are coronavirus free zones."

Jeremy Hunt's solution to social distancing:

He added: "Ultimately that is the way that we can completely crack this virus in that period before we have a vaccine.

"If you had population testing there’s no reason why you, theoretically, would need to have social distancing. You could pretty much carry on life as normal because you’d just know that everyone you’d mix with have been tested very, very recently."

Mr Hunt also said the implementation of local lockdowns needs to be better managed, after Greater Manchester councils publicly expressed concern about the lifting of restrictions in some areas there.

Another U-turn was forced on Wednesday when the government tried to lift restrictions in Trafford and Bolton, despite coronavirus cases rising there.

The government eventually opted to keep the areas under lockdown, but there was a public disagreement between local and national leaders.

Mr Hunt said: "It's really important if there are differences of opinion that those debates happen behind closed doors and then the decision is announced and everyone sticks to it.

"I think the trouble with one person in that position of responsibility saying we should do X and someone else saying we should do Y is that it undermines public trust.

"And so just in these very, very exceptional times, I think it's really important that all those who are making these decisions work together and try and hold a common line."

Listen to the full episode of Acting Prime Minister with Jeremy Hunt below: