Sir Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of being 'out of touch' on schools testing

23 September 2020, 13:55

By Maddie Goodfellow

Sir Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of being "out of touch" on the issue of coronavirus testing in schools as the pair clashed during PMQs.

Sir Keir questioned the Prime Minister over why more school children were not being tested for Covid-19.

Taking to the despatch box, he said: "Many cannot get tests quickly. Schools are only allocated 10 tests. Many wait days for results. 

"The outcome is obvious: child and siblings off school, mum, dad and carer off work, and in some cases, all of a year group off school.

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Statistics released yesterday by the Department for Education show the proportion of schools partially closed due to confirmed or suspected Covid cases has quadrupled in just one week, while heads’ union the NAHT has warned that four in five schools have pupils isolating because they can’t get a test.

The Labour leader then asked Mr Johnson about the testing situation following children going back to school: "How on earth did we get into this mess?"

The Prime Minister replied: "We are doing our level best to get every child a test who has symptoms and further to that, thanks to the efforts of teachers in this country, of parents, pupils, 99.9% of our schools are now back."

Sir Keir also accused the Prime Minister of being "out of touch" with the experiences of parents with school-age children.

Responding to Boris Johnson, Sir Keir said: "That's such a poor defence, the point... isn't whether the children have got Covid, it's that they've got Covid symptoms and then they're off school.

"The Government's own department shows that one in eight children are off school this week. That disrupts their education. Whether it's Covid symptoms or other symptoms is nothing to the point."

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School pupils and staff have been affected by widespread problems with the government’s test and trace system, with a shortage of capacity compounded by a coding error on the website.

Sir Kir continued: "If the Prime Minister doesn't see that, he's really out of touch with families and what they're going through in schooling day in day out in the last few weeks.

"The reality is losing control of testing is a major reason why the Prime Minister is losing control of this virus."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also questioned why Boris Johnson said the test and trace system has "very little or nothing" to do with the spread or the transmission of Covid-19, after previously hailing it as a game changer.

Sir Keir asked in the Commons: "Both positions cannot be right - which one is it Prime Minister?"

Mr Johnson replied: "It is an obvious fact of biology and epidemiology that alas this disease is transmitted by human contact or aerosol contact.

"But it is one of the great advantages of NHS Test and Trace, which we did not have working earlier in the pandemic, that we now have the ability to see in granular detail where the epidemic is breaking out, exactly which groups are being infected.

"That's why we've been able to deliver the local lockdowns and that's why we're able to tell at this stage that it is necessary to take the decisive action we are... to drive the virus down, keep kids in school and keep our economy moving."

Sir Keir said: "Pretending there isn't a problem is part of the problem, Prime Minister."

He added: "Is the explanation from the PM that we haven't got enough capacity because nobody could have expected the rise in demand? That's the Dido Harding defence - or is it we've got all the capacity we need, it's just that people are being unreasonable in asking for tests? That's the (Matt) Hancock defence. So which is it?"

Mr Johnson replied: "I must say that the continual attacks by the Opposition on Dido Harding in particular are unseemly and unjustified."

He added: "Testing more people than any other European country... we're going to go up to 500,000 tests by the end of October."