PM is 'blind to the risks' of easing lockdown restrictions, Starmer says

Boris Johnson is ‘blind to risks’ of lifting lockdown, Keir Starmer says

Prime minister accused of fuelling rush to beaches with ‘flippant’ response to south-coast MP’s concerns about social distancing

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
@andywoodcock
Wednesday 01 July 2020 13:15
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Sir Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson in the House of Commons of being “blind to the risks” of easing the coronavirus lockdown.

The Labour leader pointed the finger of blame at Mr Johnson for the recent scenes of massive crowds flooding beaches in resorts like Bournemouth after the prime minister’s “flippant” comment in the Commons last week that a south-coast MP concerned about an influx of sun-seekers should “show some guts” and work to attract people to his town.

Sir Keir said he supported the easing of lockdown, but voiced “concern” that the reopening of pubs, restaurants and hairdressers on “Super Saturday” this weekend was taking place “without an app, without clear data for local authorities or the world-beating system we were promised”.

The latest figures from the NHS Test and Trace operation showed that three-quarters of infected people are not being reached – an increase on previous weeks – said the Labour leader.

“I support the easing of restrictions but, unlike the prime minister, I’m not blind to the risks and I don’t think anybody else should be,” he said.

Mr Johnson insisted his plan to reopen the economy was “cautious” and condemned the scenes in Bournemouth as “completely unacceptable”. But he insisted that authorities in seaside towns should be “as welcoming as they can possibly be” to tourists from elsewhere in the UK.

The pair clashed at prime minister’s questions after Sir Keir accused Mr Johnson of being “slow to act” on the spike in infections which sparked a renewed lockdown in Leicester on Monday – 11 days after the outbreak was first highlighted by health secretary Matt Hancock.

The PM insisted that the government acted “decisively” in Leicester and engaged “actively” with local authorities.

But Sir Keir said that Leicester mayor Peter Soulsby was “absolutely clear” in a phone call this morning that he did not get health data on the outbreak until last Thursday. And he implied that Mr Johnson’s comments were misleading, telling MPs: “I doubt he told the prime minister something different yesterday.”

The Labour leader said: “The prime minister can’t just bat away challenge. These are matters of life and death, other people’s livelihoods.”

He highlighted Mr Johnson’s response last week, when Hove MP Peter Kyle raised concerns about crowds flocking to south-coast beaches and the PM replied that representatives of resort towns should “show some guts and determination and champion their communities as venues for people to return to and support”.

Sir Keir told the Commons: “Two days later Bournemouth beach was closed with 500,000 visitors, a major incident was declared. Does the prime minister now regret being so flippant?”

Mr Johnson replied that he was making it “absolutely clear that as we go forward with our plan, our cautious plan for opening up the economy, it is very, very important that people who do represent seaside communities, places where UK tourists will want to go, should be as welcoming as they can possibly be”.

Boris Johnson addresses the Commons (Reuters)

He added: “But it is also vital that people have to behave responsibly and that is why the scenes in Bournemouth were completely unacceptable and that is why we stick to the advice that we have given.”

Sir Keir said: “Of the 22,000 new cases of Covid infections per week in mid June, just 5,000 were reached and asked to provide details. So now three-quarters of people with Covid-19 are not being reached. How does the prime minister explain that?”

Mr Johnson replied: “As he knows very well, the test, track and trace operation is actually reaching huge numbers of people and causing them to self-isolate in ways I don’t think he conceivably could have expected a month ago when this system was set up.

Mr Johnson added that the Test and Trace system “has now reached 113,000 contacts, 113,000 contacts who have undertaken to self-isolate to stop the disease spreading”.

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