News | Published May 14 2020

Prime Minister’s Questions: PM and Labour leader clash over Covid-19 guidance

Prime minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer clashed at Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons over government advice concerning care homes which was issued in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sir Keir claimed that up until March 12, care homes were informed that it was “very unlikely” any residents or staff would contract the virus, which the PM has denied.

Sir Keir wrote to Johnson following the session in Parliament, accusing him of misleading MPs.

His letter to the prime minister read: "At this time of national crisis it is more important than ever that government ministers are accurate in the information they give.

"I expect you to come to the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity to correct the record."

The PM then wrote to the Leader of the Opposition in response, doubling down on his comments and suggesting that Sir Keir had quoted guidance issued by Public Health England “selectively and misleadingly”, neglecting to include its “critical context”.

Johnson also said in his letter that he had engaged and consulted with opposition parties, adding that “the public expect us to work together.”

The guidance in question was first issued on February 25 and updated on March 13. During this time, it was not believed that Covid-19 was actively spreading through the community.

The guidance itself read: "This guidance is intended for the current position in the UK where there is currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the community.

"It is therefore very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.

"There is no need to do anything differently in any care setting at present."

The PM said that the government had introduced restrictions within care homes before the general UK lockdown was introduced on March 23.

Johnson told the chamber that the fatality rate within care homes was “too high”, although the number of outbreaks and fatalities was now “well down”.

Drawing upon figures from the Office for National Statistics [ONS], Sir Keir highlighted that around 40 per cent of deaths linked to Covid-19 in England and Wales had been recorded in care homes.

The Labour leader then called on the PM to explain a number of unexplained care home deaths recorded in April, after only 8,000 out of 18,000 recorded fatalities over the average were attributed to coronavirus.

Sir Keir also questioned Johnson on why suspected Covid-19 patients had been discharged from hospital into care homes, threatening the lives of vulnerable residents.

Johnson responded: "The number of discharges from hospitals into care homes went down in March and April and we had a system of testing people going into care homes and that testing is now being ramped up."

The PM has pledged an additional £600 million in funds to care homes to help the fight against coronavirus, which will go toward more effective infection control techniques such as increased testing.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
May 14 2020

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