Prime Minister’s Questions returned to the House of Commons on Wednesday in a slightly different format amid the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
Questions were asked for 45 minutes instead of the usual 30 minutes, and many questions were asked from MP’s homes over a video link. The session of PMQs also saw Dominic Raab stand-in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers from COVID-19, and was Sir Keir Starmer’s first session of PMQs as Labour leader.
In his first question as Labour Leader at PMQs, Sir Kier Starmer grilled Mr Raab over COVID-19 testing. He asked the Foreign Secretary how the government will meet its ambition of 100,000 tests a day, with the current levels significantly below that figure.
The government had set a target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month, however, less than 20,000 tests a day have been carried out recently.
Mr Raab responded by saying that he wished to correct the new Labour leader, saying the current testing capacity is at 40,000 tests a day, with further testing facilities set to be opened this week.
Sir Keir said that “I didn’t need correcting”, because he gave the figure for the actual tests being carried out a day, not the unused capacity. He asked that if 40,000 tests could have been carried out on Monday but only 18,000 tests were completed, “why isn’t the government using all the tests available every day?”
Mr Raab said that the UK is “making good progress” on increasing capacity for testing and added that “we’re confident” that the government will meet its target by the end of the month.
Questions were also asked about the logistics of tests, with Starmer saying that many health and social care workers can’t travel to testing centres, which are often a considerable distance away from their homes. Mr Raab said that mobile testing labs will be providing tests, as part of plans to solve the logistical challenges of testing for the virus in some areas.
Keir Starmer hit out at the government for being ‘slow’ to act over the coronavirus pandemic, saying, “We were slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on protective equipment and now slow to take up these offers from British firms”. Mr Raab denied that the government had been slow and said it had been guided by scientific advice.
Also at PMQs, the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford argued for the implementation of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), saying it is “the right economic policy at the right time, it’s time has come”. So far, more than 100 opposition MPs have called for the launch of a UBI system, which would see regular payments to all adults in the country. Mr Raab said that he didn’t support the proposals, saying it is not the way to reach those most in need during the pandemic.
The session of PMQs came after the latest figures said that 17,337 people have died in UK hospitals after contracting the COVID-19 Coronavirus.