Sir Keir Starmer: Ministers too busy 'covering their own backs' to tackle Indian variant

30 May 2021, 15:10

Sir Keir Starmer accused ministers of being "too busy covering their own backs" instead of managing the pandemic
Sir Keir Starmer accused ministers of being "too busy covering their own backs" instead of managing the pandemic. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Boris Johnson and his ministers are too busy "covering their own backs" to properly counter the threat posed by the Indian coronavirus variant, Sir Keir Starmer has claimed.

The Labour leader warned that "mistakes are being repeated" as the Government considers whether to further ease restrictions.

Writing for the Observer newspaper on Sunday, Sir Keir accused ministers of "weak" and "slow" that he claims have allowed the Indian variant to "take hold".

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"We all want to unlock on 21 June but the single biggest threat to that is the Government's incompetence," he said.

It follows explosive revelations about the Government's handling of the pandemic, which the PM's former aide Dominic Cumming claims cost the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Similarly, Sir Keir said Mr Johnson's reluctance to impose a second lockdown in autumn last year meant "avoidable and unforgivable" deaths in the second wave of the virus.

"The first wave we faced an unprecedented crisis. Decision making was undoubtedly difficult," he said.

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While he accepted that "mistakes were inevitable" he claims Mr Johnson was "warned to prepare for a second wave" and failed to do so.

Much of the piece echoed allegations about ministers by Mr Cummings, who also accused Health Secretary Matt Hancock of lying about testing for care home residents discharged from hospital - a claim he denied.

Boris Johnson has been accused of prioritising reputation over responding to the coronavirus pandemic
Boris Johnson has been accused of prioritising reputation over responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: PA Images

Ministers have been quick to defend the PM and Mr Hancock, including Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi.

When asked about the accusations Mr Cummings and Sir Keir had levelled at the Government, he told LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday that "hindsight is a really wonderful thing" and denied the Health Secretary had lied to the public or interfered with Covid testing to meet targets.

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He said: "It's so easy now to look back and say 'now that we can do a million plus tests a day, what was happening [last year]?' - we had limited capacity that was increased to 100,000.

"As we've seen with the vaccination programme, by setting out those targets the system begins to focus and the NHS began to operationalise that commitment to give people being discharged from hospitals into care homes those tests."