Boris Johnson has been accused by Keir Starmer of being slow to act on a series of measures during the pandemic, as he piled pressure on the prime minister to explain why the UK’s official Covid-19 death toll had passed 100,000.
The Labour leader pushed the prime minister – who insisted his government “did everything we could” and said he was “deeply sorry for every life lost” when the figure was recorded on Tuesday – to explain why the number of fatalities had reached the figure.
Starmer, appearing at prime minister’s questions via video link from home where he has been isolating, argued Johnson had been slow on a number of issues throughout the crisis including imposing lockdowns, providing PPE to frontline workers, protecting care homes and test and trace efforts.
Starmer said: “Yesterday we passed the tragic milestone of 100,000 deaths in the United Kingdom. That’s not just a statistic, behind every death is a grieving family, a mum, a dad, a sister, a brother, a friend, a colleague, a neighbour.
“The question on everyone’s lips this morning is why? The prime minister must have thought about that question a lot. So could he tell us why he thinks that the United Kingdom has ended up with a death toll of 100,000, the highest number in Europe?”
In response, Johnson said he mourned “every death in this pandemic”, adding: “I and the government take full responsibility for all the actions I have taken, we’ve taken, during this pandemic to fight this disease. And, yes… there will indeed be a time when we must learn the lessons of what has happened, reflect on them and prepare… I don’t think that moment is now when we are in the throws of fighting this wave of the new variant, when 37,000 people are struggling with Covid in our hospitals and I think what the country wants is for us to come together as a parliament and as politicians and to work to keep the virus under control, Mr Speaker, as we are, and to continue to roll out the fastest vaccination programme in Europe.”
Starmer continued to press Johnson for an answer on why the UK had a Covid death toll higher than almost anywhere else in the world. He said: “The problem with the prime minister avoiding the question of ‘why?’ is that vital lessons won’t be learned.
“The reality is this: the prime minister was slow into the first lockdown last March, he was slow in getting protective equipment to the frontline, slow to protect our care homes, slow on testing and tracing, slow into the second lockdown in the autumn, slow to change the Christmas mixing rules, slow again into this third lockdown, delaying 13 days from 22 of December before implementing it. And I fear that he still hasn’t learnt that lesson.”
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