PMQs: Keir Starmer presses Boris Johnson over care home deaths | Politics

Boris Johnson has been accused by Labour of not knowing the government’s advice on coronavirus after he told Keir Starmer at prime minister’s questions that it “wasn’t true” that the care home sector had been advised it was unlikely to face an outbreak.

In a tricky series of exchanges in the Commons, Starmer put Johnson under intense pressure to explain the extent of care homes deaths.

Johnson also declined to say why the government had stopped publishing daily international comparisons of Covid-19 deaths now that the UK had the highest number of fatalities in Europe and the second highest in the world.

Opening his questioning, Starmer noted new figures indicating that 40% of all UK coronavirus deaths had taken place in care homes, and he asked why it was that until 12 March the main government advice was that it remained “very unlikely” that people in care homes could be affected.

“Does the prime minister accept that the government was too slow to protect people in care homes?” the Labour leader asked.

Johnson said: “No, and it wasn’t true that the advice said that. Actually, we brought the lockdown in care homes ahead of the general lockdown. And what we’ve seen is a concerted action plan to tackle what has unquestionably been an appalling epidemic in care homes.”

Johnson said it was “absolutely true that the number of casualties has been too high”, but he insisted the government was reversing the trend on deaths in care homes.

Starmer responded: “I’m surprised the prime minister queries the advice of his own government up to 12 March.”

Labour later published a link to a government web page on Covid-19 advice to the care sector, which says it was “very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected”. The page says the advice was withdrawn on 13 March.

Starmer asked Johnson whether he agreed with the reported view of a hospital doctor that government policy had “seeded” the epidemic in care homes by transferring Covid-19 patients from hospitals.

Johnson said discharges into care settings went down in March and April and that testing had been done.

Pressing the prime minister about official death statistics released on Tuesday, Starmer asked him to explain why there appeared to be 10,000 more deaths than average in April, even beyond those officially attributed to the virus.

He said: “Now I know the government must have looked into this. So can the prime minister give us the government’s views on these unexplained deaths?”

Johnson did not reply to the question, saying only that Covid-19 was “an appalling disease which afflicts some groups far more than others”.

Starmer replied: “The prime minister says that solving the problem in care homes is crucial, but that can only happen if the numbers are understood, and therefore I was disappointed that the prime minister didn’t have an answer to the pretty obvious question as to what are those 10,000 unexplained deaths.”

Labour later announced that Starmer had written to the prime minister asking him to correct the record.

Juxtaposing Johnson’s comments and the official advice from which he had quoted, Starmer wrote: “At this time of national crisis, it is more important than ever that government ministers are accurate in the information they give. Given this, I expect you to come to the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity to correct the record and to recognise that this was official government guidance regarding care homes.”

During PMQs, Starmer also asked why a chart showing worldwide death comparisons had been dropped from Tuesday’s daily No 10 press conference.

Starmer said: “A version of this slide has been shown at the No 10 press conference every day since 30 March – that’s seven weeks. Yesterday the government stopped publishing the international comparison and the slide has gone? Why?”

Johnson replied that seeking such comparisons was “premature because the correct and final way of making these comparisons will be when we have all the excess death totals for all the relevant countries.” He urged Starmer to “contain his impatience”.

Starmer said: “I’m baffled. It’s not me seeking to draw the comparisons, it’s the government slide that as been used for seven weeks, to reassure the public. The problem with the prime minister’s answer is it’s pretty obvious that for seven weeks when we weren’t the highest number in Europe they were used for comparison purposes, but as soon as we hit that unenviable place they were dropped.”

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