PMQs: Foreign secretary and Labour leader clash over government's Covid-19 response

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on April 22nd 2020, 1:01pm

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has sought answers from the government over its response to the Covid-19 pandemic concerning issues such as testing and the shortage of personal protective equipment [PPE] available to front-line workers.

Sir Keir said that the UK has been “way behind other countries” and “very slow” with regards to testing.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who was deputising for the prime minister, said that testing capacity was now at 40,000 per day and would undergo “an exponential increase in the final days”.

Both men were present in the Commons chamber for the first ever Prime Minister’s Questions in the new ‘virtual’ Parliament, with many MPs dialling via a video conferencing system.

Raab went on to promise that the government would reach its target of making 100,000 tests per day available by the end of April.

Sir Keir remained sceptical, questioning how the government planned to meet its target while only 18,000 tests per day are currently being conducted.

He said: "All week we have heard from the front line, from care workers who are frankly desperate for tests.”

The Labour leader also raised concerns that many care workers were being made to travel a distance to reach testing centres, and were unable to use public transport due to social distancing compliance.

Raab acknowledged that there were some issues with making testing accessible, but stressed the importance of having a target.

He added: "We are making good progress and are confident we will meet it".

Raab also suggested that mobile labs could be used in future, with the British Army drafted in to support the effort.

On the issue of PPE, Sir Keir questioned Raab on the revelation that some British firms who have offered to assist with providing supplies have been ignored by the government, with some now looking to export abroad.

Raab said that simply because some firms are supplying “different needs abroad”, it did not mean that the equipment and service on offer met UK requirements, adding that the quality of supplies has had to be scrutinised carefully.

He highlighted that some faulty PPE equipment had been distributed in other countries, meaning some health workers have had to go into self-isolation.

Raab called PPE procurement "a massive international challenge", bringing up the fact that the government had already secured one billion PPE items. He also declared that the government has put in a substantial effort to procure ventilators which have been vital in enabling the NHS to weather the crisis thus far.

The foreign secretary also paid tribute to the 69 NHS workers who have died as a result of contracting Covid-19, calling the deaths a “tragedy”.

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Authored By

Rhys Taylor-Brown
Junior Editor
April 22nd 2020, 1:01pm

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