Watch: Sir Keir Starmer questions the PM on government's test and trace scheme
Keir Starmer questions government’s contradictory statements on importance of test and trace system in restricting spread of COVID-19
Labour leader attempts to shift focus on to Downing Street’s test and trace struggles in latest PMQs clash with Boris Johnson
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused the government of “completely opposite” statements on coronavirus testing.
In his latest Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) clash with Boris Johnson, Starmer focused on Downing Street’s issues with its test and trace programme.
He pointed to two contradictory statements the government has made on test and trace: one in which health secretary Matt Hancock said it can stop the virus spreading and the other in which Johnson said it cannot.
It comes as the number of new infections continues to surge, and after Johnson announced six months of new restrictions on Tuesday.
Starmer said: “Three months ago today, the PM said test and trace can be a real game-changer for us. He was backed up by the health secretary, who said finding where people who test positive are is the single most important thing that we can do to stop the spread of the virus.
“Yesterday, the PM said the complete opposite. Standing there, he said testing and tracing has very little or nothing to do with the spread or the transmission of the disease. Both positions cannot be right, which one is it?”
Johnson hit back: “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, alas, earlier in the pandemic… the result is, we now have the ability to see in granular detail where the epidemic is breaking out, exactly which groups are being infected.”
Starmer responded by asking the same question: “So why yesterday did the PM say testing and tracing had very little or nothing to do with the spread or transmission of the disease?”
The PM, after largely repeating his previous answer, criticised Starmer for not “paying tribute” to test and trace.
The government has endured huge problems coping with demand for coronavirus testing, with NHS Test and Trace chief Dido Harding admittingd last week that up to 75% of people who wanted a test had been unable to get one.
Meanwhile, contact tracing, which Baroness Harding also oversees, is also falling below its 80% target. The latest figures show 73.9% of close contacts of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in England were reached through test and trace in the week ending 9 September.