During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked the PM to admit his slowness to react to the COVID-19 outbreak cost lives.
Starmer said: “Let me start at the beginning of the pandemic, when images in hospitals in Italy and Spain were being shown on our televisions and the infection rates were rising in the UK.
“Does the prime minister now accept that his slowness to respond led to more deaths, a longer lockdown and a deeper economic damage?”
Johnson replied: “No, because at every stage we followed the scientific guidance and continue to do so.”
Watch: Keir Starmer asks the PM to admit his slowness to lock down cost lives
Johnson told MPs “there are spikes now taking place across the whole of the EU”, adding that thanks to the tiering system implemented in the UK “we’re seeing those rates coming down”.
He continued: “Yes, it is true that we have spikes now in some parts of London and the South East, but we will make sure that with our adjustments to the tiering that we conduct over the next few weeks that we will address those issues.”
He said the UK would defeat the virus with vaccines, community testing and tough tiering.
Starmer quoted the spending watchdog the Office of Budget Responsibility as having said: “The UK locked down late and for longer than some of its European neighbours and experienced a deeper fall and slower economic recovery,” and added: “This isn’t bad luck, it’s not inevitable. It’s the result of the prime minister’s choices.”
Starmer then asked Johnson why he thought the UK ended the year with one of the highest COVID death tolls in Europe and the deepest recession of any major economy.
In Europe, the UK’s death toll of 65,006 is second only to Italy’s 65,857, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Last month the Bank of England forecast Britain's economy would shrink 2% in the fourth quarter, after suffering a record 20% hit during the first lockdown in the three months to June.
The PM did not directly respond to the question, instead pointing out the UK was first to produce a viable treatment for coronavirus and also approved the first vaccine.
He added he would take Starmer’s criticisms more seriously if the Labour leader had been able to decide if he supported or opposed the government’s approach in a vote in Parliament.
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