Boris Johnson has faced MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) after it was announced that more than 100,000 people in the UK have died within 28 days of a positive Coronavirus test.
Mr Johnson and also Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer, who asked questions remotely due to self-isolating, started by paying tributes on Holocaust Memorial Day, remembering around six million Jewish people who were murdered during the Holocaust.
The Prime Minister was questioned by Sir Keir Starmer as to “why he thinks the UK has ended up with a death toll of 100,000 – the highest in Europe?”. Mr Johnson did not fully answer the question, instead saying he mourns every death and that he takes full responsibility for his Government’s actions.
In response, Sir Keir said that the Prime Minister will have to explain the reasons for the death toll “one day” and that he should have “the decency to do that today”. Sir Keir also went on to say that he feared lessons won’t be learned as a result of the Prime Minister avoiding the question of why so many people have died. In a previous response, the PM had said that there will be a time in which to learn the lessons, but said: “I don’t think that moment is now”.
In a later exchange, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said that is is “simply not true” that the Government did everything it could to respond to the pandemic, as has been claimed by the Government recently.
Questions in PMQs also focused on the UK’s mass vaccination programme. Boris Johnson said that the Government is on target to have 15 million people vaccinated by its target of 15 February, provided supplies are available. In recent days, concerns have been spreading about the supply of vaccines given problems with some manufacturing plants. So far, around 6.8 million people in the Uk have received a first Coronavirus vaccine dose.
Sir Keir Starmer urged the Prime Minister to vaccinate all teachers during the half-term break. Mr Johnson didn’t clearly say where he stood on this idea but one comment indicated that any immediate changes to the vaccination priority list are unlikely, and only those teachers in groups 1-9 of the current prioritisation list are likely to be vaccinated as a priority. The PM repeatedly called on the Leader of the Opposition to say that ‘schools are safe’ – something which Sir Keir did not do.
On measures at the UK’s border, the Prime Minister said that the Home Secretary Priti Patel will make a statement this afternoon to set out tougher quarantine measures for “red list countries where we have particular concerns about new variants”. It is anticipated that the statement will see the announcement of quarantine hotel stays for UK arrivals from countries considered high risk.
Other questions in PMQs focused on Coronavirus support, fishing communities and new rules on cladding. PMQs came ahead of a busy day in the Commons, with further statements on the government’s response to COVID-19 expected after 13:30.