Mr Coupe worked at Sainsbury’s from 2004 until this year, becoming chief executive officer in 2014.

Baroness Harding spent three years as a senior manager at Sainsbury’s before becoming chief executive of the telecoms firm Talk Talk in 2010. 

In her email, seen by Health Service Journal (HSJ), Baroness Harding said:  “Sarah-Jane has led the team with unparalleled drive, compassion, and humour” and the agency had been “incredibly privileged to be able to ‘borrow’ Sarah-Jane for the last five months”.

Baroness Harding, who is also interim executive chairwoman of the National Institute for Health Protection, added: “There will be plenty of time over the next month to say thank you for the extraordinary job she has done, and in the meantime I am confident she will be pushing us all hard to ensure we hit our 500k target (of daily testing capacity at the end of October), just as the testing team have hit every other target that they have ever been set.”

Mr Coupe led Sainsbury’s for almost six years, during which time he oversaw a failed attempt to merge with rival supermarket Asda.

In 2018, he was forced to apologise after being caught singing Broadway hit ‘We’re in the Money’ in between media interviews about the attempted merger. His exit was announced a day after Sainsbury’s said it was cutting “hundreds” of management roles to reduce costs.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, tweeted: “How about putting those trained in actual infectious disease control in charge of Test & Trace? Local public health teams should be leading contact tracing. That way we would have an effective Test, Trace & Isolate regime that helps control this virus.”

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