The use of rapid coronavirus tests could provide a way out of the crisis, Business Secretary Alok Sharma told company chiefs as he acknowledged a fully functioning vaccine “may never materialise”.
Mr Sharma, who was a late replacement for Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Confederation of British Industry conference, acknowledged that the second lockdown in England was “regrettable” after warnings that it could have a devastating impact on firms.
But he insisted the Government would continue to support struggling businesses and workers, and he promised that ministers had a long-term plan to build a more resilient economy as the country emerges from the pandemic.
Mr Johnson highlighted the prospect of “many millions” of rapid coronavirus tests being used with results available in 10-15 minutes, as he announced England’s second lockdown which is due to start on Thursday.
Mr Sharma said there would be a “steady but significant” deployment of the tests.
He said that while there was “brilliant” work being done on a vaccine, a treatment which “fully eliminates the virus may never materialise”.
Mr Sharma told the CBI: “We plan to also protect the country in other ways.
“As the Prime Minister set out on Saturday, we have the immediate prospect of using many millions of cheap, reliable and rapid-turnaround tests.
“Over the next few days and weeks, we will plan a steady but significant deployment of these tests.
“There are paths out of this current predicament to eventually get business fully on its feet and the economy firing on all cylinders.”
Mr Sharma insisted the lockdown was necessary despite warnings from CBI chief Dame Carolyn Fairbairn that it could devastate firms.
The Cabinet minister said: “It’s regrettable that we’re having to take this particular action, but this is about safeguarding the NHS and ultimately making sure that we can come out of this the other side.
“So these measures are being put in place but alongside that we’re also providing financial support.”
Mr Sharma said he was “sorry that we’ve had to put in place these restrictions” but “the last thing we want is for this virus to overwhelm the NHS”.
He promised that “we will continue to stand should to shoulder with business” but as Chancellor Rishi Sunak had acknowledged, “we will not be able to save every single job”.
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