Fewer people would have died from coronavirus in the UK if the country had greater testing capacity sooner, minister Grant Shapps has said.
The transport secretary, appearing on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, was asked about people in care homes after one expert warned the environments could become the ‘epicentre’ of coronavirus transmission.
Shapps said: ‘I hope that won’t be the case that final prediction simply for the fact infections in care homes are now falling rather than rising.
‘And everybody in care homes, whether that is patients or a member of staff, can be tested to see if they are symptomatic or even asymptomatic, and that is now available because we’ve got this big expansion.’
Asked whether fewer people would have died if testing capacity had been greater sooner, the minister agreed.
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He said: ‘Yes. If we had had 100,000 test capacity before this thing started and the knowledge that we now have retrospectively I’m sure many things could be different.
‘The fact of the matter is this is not a country that had – although we’re very big in pharmaceuticals as a country – we’re not a country that had very large test capacity.’
But Shapps said it was too early to compare Britain’s excess mortality from coronavirus to other countries.
‘There are other factors taken into account on excess mortalities which we won’t know about today – for example what does it do in terms of other illnesses and diseases?’
He added: ‘We shouldn’t look at the raw data and jump to conclusions on this because actually the NHS has been doing a terrific job and there will be other deaths outside of coronavirus that may or may not have happened had it been handled differently, without for example sufficient hospital capacity.’
The transport minister said he was ‘actively looking at’ quarantining people travelling to the UK from abroad to keep coronavirus infection rates under control.
‘I think it is important that as we are seeing the numbers decrease and the R rate we hope decrease… that we do ensure that the sacrifices in a sense – social distancing – that we are asking the British people to make are matched by anybody who comes to this country.
‘I am actively looking at these issues right now so that when we have infection rates within the country under control we are not importing.’