FORMER health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said mass coronavirus testing could reduce the likelihood of local lockdowns.

Mr Hunt wrote in The Daily Telegraph that it took “far too long” for central and local governments to implement targeted testing amid a spike in Covid-19 cases in Leicester.

The East Midlands city was placed under harsher restrictions by Mr Hunt’s successor Matt Hancock this week, with non-essential shops ordered to close and people urged not to travel in or out of the area.

“Why did we not just immediately test the whole city population? And why are we not doing this now in Bradford and Barnsley?,” Mr Hunt wrote in the paper.

“The quicker we identify asymptomatic carriers, the less likely whole cities will have to be locked down.”

Earlier this week, Bradford Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe said: “We know that figures from Public Health England show Bradford with a high number of infections along with a number of other northern authorities, although we are some way behind Leicester.

"The number of people testing positive for the virus is still too high and we continue to work hard with all our partners to prevent infection spreading as no one wants a second lockdown. 

“As we take more and more steps towards returning to a more normal life, it’s easy to believe that COVID-19 is less of a threat to our health and the health of our family and friends. This is simply not the case.

"We urge all residents to continue to follow the guidelines around staying at home as much as possible, social distancing, washing hands frequently and ensuring that they self-isolate and get tested if they, or anyone in their household, develop any symptoms. 

"We must all stay vigilant, we don’t want to see a second spike of cases that inevitably would mean more deaths.  Don’t be conned into thinking it’s all OK now, it’s not.”

The latest data showed Bradford has 45.8 cases per 100,000 population, the second highest in England behind Leicester with 141.3

And Barnsley is third in the table with 35.1 cases per 100,000.

Mr Hunt, now chairman of the health and social care committee, said the Test and Trace system “will fail” unless a way of reaching infected people is found.

He wrote: “Even if cases overall continue to fall, we will not have the resilience we need for a potential second wave this winter.

“How do we solve this? The first thing we need is a massive public information campaign telling anyone with Covid symptoms – whether repeated coughing, fever, loss of taste or smell or any combination of these – to get a test immediately.”