Western Morning News

Starmer challenges Raab over response to coronaviru­s

- DAVID HUGHES Press Associatio­n

THE Government has been accused of being slow to respond to the coronaviru­s crisis as ministers said the UK had reached the peak of the outbreak.

Dominic Raab faced questions on testing and protection for NHS and care workers in his Prime Minister’s Questions clash with Sir Keir Starmer.

And Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “we are at the peak” but added there could be no relaxation of the lockdown until the Government’s tests – which include preventing a second wave of virus cases – are met.

The new Labour leader and Foreign Secretary Mr Raab – deputising for Boris Johnson as the Prime Minister continued his recovery from Covid-19 – faced each other in a sparsely attended House of Commons as the majority of MPs participat­ed remotely.

Sir Keir questioned the Government’s progress towards its target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month and claimed that opportunit­ies to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE) from British firms had been missed.

He said: “There is a pattern emerging here. We were slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on protective equipment and now slow to take up these offers from British firms.”

Mr Raab told him the Government was guided by scientific advisers.

He said that if Sir Keir “thinks he knows better than they do, with the benefit of hindsight, then that’s his decision”. Mr Raab said 8,000 British businesses had responded to a call for assistance on PPE and they had all received a response, with 3,000 followed up where it was “sensible” if they had equipment with the required specificat­ion and volume.

He said it was an “incredibly difficult and competitiv­e internatio­nal environmen­t” to source PPE from overseas.

On testing, the latest figures showed that less than half of the available capacity was being used and fewer than 20,000 tests had been carried out in a 24-hour period.

Sir Keir questioned how the Government would ramp that up to 100,000 tests a day in just eight days – particular­ly as some care workers and NHS staff could only be tested if they could drive to a site.

Ministers have repeatedly insisted the target will be met and Mr Raab said “those tests will be crucial not just in terms of controllin­g the virus but allowing the country to move to the next phase”.

He said mobile labs were now being used, with the Army also helping to get tests to where they were needed.

Mr Johnson continues to recover from coronaviru­s at Chequers and Mr Raab said the Prime Minister was in “good spirits”.

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