PMQs: Raab deputises for Boris Johnson after Carrie Symonds gives birth
Deputising for prime minister Boris Johnson at Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament following the birth of Johnson's son, foreign secretary Dominic Raab informed MPs that the government plans to “ramp up Covid-19 testing in care homes, overhaul the way PPE is delivered and expand the care workforce by 20,000.”
Raab’s comments came after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that there had been an “anxiety” on the front-line of the care sector about shortages in personal protective equipment [PPE] and access to coronavirus testing.
Sir Keir highlighted figures, which showed that 27,241 people in all settings have died of Covid-19 in the UK.
He added that this was likely to rise, claiming that the UK was “possibly on track to have the worst death rate in Europe".
The Labour leader acknowledged that the number of hospital deaths has been falling in recent days but challenged the government on the rising death rate in care homes.
Raab said that there had been some "positive signs" concerning the levels of deceased within care homes, while conceding that they are "within the margin of error".
The foreign secretary and Labour leader clashed over front-line PPE access. Sir Keir suggested that the PPE shortage was getting worse, which Raab denied.
Raab insisted that it was “not true overall” to suggest the situation was intensifying, adding that there is a “global supply shortage” in PPE procurement that had to be taken into account.
Raab was also staunch in saying that the main elements of the government's strategy were working.
On the issue of testing, Raab indicated that the government target of carrying out 250,000 tests per day remains an “aspiration” and that it was “on track to make huge progress”, but he did not provide a concrete deadline for when such capacity could be reached.
He added that the government target of testing 100,000 people per day by the end of April was only the “first stepping stone toward the wider testing, tracking, tracing system we will need” to make progress toward the next phase of the government’s plan.
However, Raab stopped short on revealing more details of the government’s exit strategy, despite Sir Keir’s insistence that an exit strategy must be forthcoming to maintain transparency and public trust and, crucially, to allow businesses to plan ahead.
Raab explained that it would be difficult to "responsibly" set out further details until the latest round of advice is provided by scientists and health experts.
The next review of the UK lockdown measures is due on May 7.
Concerning the issue of ongoing post-Brexit trade talks with the EU, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, urged the government to extend the transition period beyond December 31, 2020, to allow for more negotiating time.
Speaking via video link, Blackford claimed that not extending would be “a reckless and foolish gamble” on the “economic future” of the UK amid a public health crisis.
However, Raab rejected Blackford’s suggestion and insisted that the government has “no intention” of allowing talks to go beyond 2020.
He added that the best way to put an end to uncertainty was to ensure the UK “gets a deal by the end of this year”.