Ministers have ‘lost control of virus’ – Starmer


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PA Media

Boris Johnson’s government has “lost control” of coronavirus, the leader of the opposition has said.

Speaking to the Observer, Sir Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of “serial incompetence” over the virus.

He has called for ministers to set out a new “road map” for dealing with Covid-19 until a vaccine is rolled out.

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister had already set out “a package of measures” that could be in place for the next six months.

The package “balances the need to suppress the virus while also protecting the NHS, keeping children in schools and keeping the economy moving over what is going to be a challenging winter”, the spokesman added.

In a wide-ranging interview, the Labour leader laid out a five-point plan to fight rising infection rates.

The proposals urge the government to:

  • follow Germany by publishing the criteria the government uses for deciding when local restrictions are introduced and when they can be lifted
  • improve public health messaging by expanding the NHS Covid-19 app so people can type in their postcode and get a rundown of the restrictions that apply to them in their area
  • invest in NHS labs and university labs to expand testing and put local public health teams in charge of contact tracing in their areas
  • ensure routine regular testing for all high-risk workplaces and high transmission areas with a guarantee of results within 24 hours to improve infection control, including for NHS staff and carers
  • outline a programme to ensure the manufacture and distribution of any resulting vaccine

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Sir Keir said the prime minister was guilty of “governing in hindsight”, as he ramped up his attack on the government’s handling of the pandemic.

The choice of words echoes Mr Johnson’s own frequent criticism of Sir Keir during Prime Minister Questions, having labelled him “Captain Hindsight” for criticising the government’s actions.

The Labour leader, who was elected in April, added: “I think they’ve lost control of the virus.

“And I don’t want to see death rates go up. Nobody does.

“But this is serial incompetence.”

Sir Keir blames divisions in the top of government and says that local health officials should have been more involved in tackling outbreaks, according to the paper.

Speaking about his plans for returning Labour to power after four election defeats, Sir Keir said: “We have a mountain to climb.”

But he said he is breaking his leadership into “phases”, with the next six months involving answering the question: “What’s our positive vision for the country?”

He added: “This is going to take four years. And we’re going to have to be at this every day, every week, every month for the whole of the four years.”

The Labour leader’s comments come as one in three people in the UK are now living under tougher social restrictions.

Merseyside became the latest area to enter into a local lockdown on Saturday. Similar restrictions were also applied in Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough to tackle the spread of the illness.

On Saturday, the UK announced another 12,872 new cases of coronavirus, and reported a further 49 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

Meanwhile, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the UK government, say it is still “highly likely” the epidemic is growing exponentially across the country.

Its latest R number estimate – indicating how fast the epidemic is growing or falling – rose to between 1.3 and 1.6.

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