Boris Johnson refuses to apologise for blaming care homes for coronavirus deaths

Prime minister ‘rubs salt in the wounds’ by refusing to say sorry, says Sir Keir Starmer during PMQs clash

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 08 July 2020 13:07 BST
Boris Johnson refuses to apologise for blaming care homes for coronavirus deaths

Boris Johnson has refused to apologise for his claim that some care homes “didn’t really follow the procedures” to protect residents and staff from the coronavirus.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer challenged the prime minister on his wide-criticised remarks at PMQs in the House of Commons and asked him to say sorry to Britain’s care workers.

“The last thing I wanted to do was blame care workers for what has happened or for any of them to think I was blaming,” said Mr Johnson. “When it comes to taking blame [for deaths], I take full responsibility for what has happened.”

Sir Keir said the prime minister’s remarks were “not an apology and it just won’t wash,” before inviting him again to say sorry. “By refusing to apologise the prime minister rubs salt into the wounds of the very people he stood at his front door and clapped.”

Mr Johnson replied: “He keeps saying I tried to blame care workers, and that is simply not the case. The reality is we now know things about the way coronavirus is passed from person to person without symptoms that we just didn’t know.”

The prime minister also claimed “the one thing that nobody knew early on during this pandemic was that the virus was being passed asymptomatically from person to person ... that’s why the guidance and procedures [at care homes] changed”.

Health secretary Matt Hancock used the same argument on Tuesday, when he claimed Mr Johnson had only been trying to explain that “because asymptomatic transmission was not known about, the correct procedures were therefore not known [by care homes]”.

However, minutes from a meeting of the government’s SAGE group of scientific advisers from 28 January show officials were aware asymptomatic transmission. The minutes state: “There is limited evidence of asymptomatic transmission, but early indications imply some is occurring.”

Boris Johnson at PMQs in the Commons (Reuters TV)

During another feisty encounter in the Commons on Wednesday, the Labour leader pointed out that more than 19,000 care home residents have died from Covid-19.

“These are extraordinary numbers but the Prime Minister has consistently ducked responsibility for this,” Sir Keir said, before adding “huge mistakes” have been made.

He went on: “The decision to discharge 25,000 people to care homes without tests was clearly a mistake. Will the prime minister simply accept his government was just too slow to act on care homes?”

Mr Johnson again said the understanding of the disease “changed dramatically” over recent months. “I’ve made it clear this government takes responsibility for everything that we’ve done throughout this crisis.”

It was during a visit to Yorkshire on Monday that Mr Johnson said: “We discovered too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have.”

The National Care Forum has described the prime minister’s remarks as “hugely insulting” to care workers, while the chief executive officer of Community Integrated Care accused Mr Johnson of attempting to re-write history in “cowardly” fashion.

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