Boris to face Sir Keir at PMQs as UK's coronavirus death toll becomes Europe's highest

6 May 2020, 05:55

The PM will return to the Commons on Wednesday
The PM will return to the Commons on Wednesday. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Boris Johnson will face off against the Labour leader later as the UK's official death toll becomes the highest in Europe amid calls for the lockdown to be eased.

The Prime Minister will meet Sir Keir Starmer across the dispatch box for the first time since recovering from his own battle against coronavirus.

The Opposition leader is expected to question the PM on his plans to ease the country out of lockdown and restart the economy.

It will be the first time Mr Johnson has taken questions in Parliament since returning to Downing Street after his admission to hospital with Covid-19.

Mr Johnson is expected to lay out his “roadmap” for coming out of the lockdown later this week.

Sir Keir, who took over as Labour leader last month, has called for Mr Johnson to form a "national consensus" on easing restrictions while protecting public health.

Read more: What is the lockdown 'roadmap'? How will restrictions be lifted?

Mr Johnson has not taken questions in the Commons since March 25 before Parliament broke early for Easter as MPs struggled to keep their distance in the Palace of Westminster.

He returned to Downing Street last week after recovering from Covid-19, but Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab deputised for him in PMQs as Mr Johnson welcomed the birth of his new son.

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Mr Raab on Tuesday warned the "next stage won't be easy" but he said ministers want to ensure it is "more comfortable, is more sustainable and prevents lasting damage to jobs and livelihoods".

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is involved in UK-wide decision-making through the Cobra system, had earlier set out her own blueprint for easing the lockdown.

Among measures being considering in Scotland is the possibility of joining a social "bubble" containing small groups of friends and family from different households for gatherings, even if that was only possible outdoors.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman confirmed the possibility of easing restrictions outdoors was also under consideration in Westminster, pointing towards evidence showing "there is less likelihood of transmission of this disease outdoors than indoors".

The prospect of the UK edging towards life after lockdown came as figures showed a total of 32,375 deaths involving Covid-19 have now been registered across the UK.

In Italy, the European country which first suffered an outbreak on a horrific scale, that figure stood at 29,315 as of 5pm on Tuesday.

But Downing Street has warned against comparing different nations' death tolls, with the true extent of the loss not likely to be fully realised for months to come.

The route out of lockdown will depend on how successfully the Government can implement a contact-tracing programme to ensure infected individuals enter quarantine.

This will be aided by an NHS app, which Health Secretary Matt Hancock has defended against warnings of an impingement on civil liberties.

"We've all had to give up significant infringements on our liberty - for instance, with the social distancing measures and the lockdown - and we want to release those, and this approach will help us to release them," he told the BBC.