Labour muddle over support for Covid ‘plan B’ as Keir Starmer contradicts health spokesperson

Jonathan Ashworth says ‘we are in favour’ – but party leader calls controversy ‘the wrong focus’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 21 October 2021 19:13
Comments
<p>Sir Keir said that the question of when to implement plan B was ‘the wrong focus’ </p>

Sir Keir said that the question of when to implement plan B was ‘the wrong focus’

Labour’s Covid policy was plunged into confusion when it appeared to back an immediate move to tougher ‘plan B’ restrictions – before Sir Keir Starmer said it was the “wrong” question.

Jonathan Ashworth, the party’s shadow health secretary, suggested the party’s stance had shifted when he told an interviewer: “We are in favour of plan B.”

Mr Ashworth said that Labour had “never had a problem” with vaccine passports to enter crowded venues – a key plank of plan B – and had always backed the reintroduction of compulsory mask-wearing in those settings.

But minutes later, his leader sent out a very different message as he attacked Boris Johnson for letting the vaccination programme “crumble”, as the number being jabbed was revealed to have slumped.

Calling the controversy over plan B “the wrong focus”, Sir Keir said: “The question we need to ask is why is plan A failing? And it’s failing because the government has allowed that wall of the vaccine to crumble.”

The muddle emerged as Mr Johnson again rejected pleas from NHS leaders to move immediately to tougher Covid restrictions in order to avoid a winter NHS disaster, insisting: “We’re sticking with our plan.”

The prime minister acknowledged that case rates were “high” and rising, as the number of new daily infections topped 50,000 for the first time since the end of lockdown in July.

But he insisted they were “within the parameters of what the predictions were” from government advisers when the staged lifting of lockdown was completed in the summer.

Labour’s most senior elected leader, Wales’s first minister Mark Drakeford, has echoed NHS leaders and the British Medical Association in backing tougher curbs.

And the general secretary of Unite, Sharon Graham, has made the same call for the government not to “repeat the complacency of last autumn”, when restrictions were delayed.

One Conservative MP, NHS doctor Dan Poulter, broke ranks to back curbs now, including homeworking where possible and encouraging social distancing.

“It is not a lot to ask for people to wear face masks on public transport, to wear face masks in crowded public spaces,” Dr Poulter told the PoliticsHome website.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine went further, as it highlighted the fact that patients are waiting in ambulances outside hospitals, and called for the return of social distancing rules.

No move to plan B is imminent, No 10 sources insist, as the government pins its hopes on next week’s school half-term holiday dampening down infection numbers.

The rising case rates are primarily among children, the first time a single age group has accounted for such a large proportion of the total.

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