Boris Johnson suggests he hasn’t read report detailing risk of second wave of coronavirus

Boris Johnson at PMQs. Photograph: Parliament TV.

Boris Johnson at PMQs. Photograph: Parliament TV. - Credit: Archant

Boris Johnson has suggested he hasn't read the report detailing a report commissioned by his own chief scientific adviser warning about the risks of a second wave of coronavirus this winter.

Asked at Prime Minister's Questions if he had read the report which shows a 'reasonable worst-case scenario' of 120,000 deaths, Johnson said he was only 'aware' of the document.

The report from the Academy of Medical Sciences says action must be taken now to mitigate the potential for a second peak of Covid-19.

It argues that hospitals could potentially see 120,000 Covid-19 deaths in between September and next June at the same time as battling a surge in demand due to usual winter pressures, including flu.

The report, from 37 scientists and academics, acknowledges there is a high degree of uncertainty about how the Covid-19 epidemic will evolve in the UK over the coming months, but sets out a 'reasonable worst-case scenario' that would see the R rate rise to 1.7 from September.

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The academic modelling suggests there could be a peak in hospital admissions and deaths in January and February 2021, similar to or worse than the first wave in spring 2020. It does not include deaths in the community or care homes.

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The figures do not take account of government intervention to reduce the transmission rate, or the use of the drug dexamethasone in intensive care units, which has been shown to cut deaths.

At PMQs, Sir Keir pressed Johnson over whether the recommendations of the government's advisory group will be implemented in full.

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He said: 'Yesterday the government's expert advisory group published a report on the challenges this autumn and winter. They were asked to do so by the government's office for science.

'That report assessed the reasonable worst-case scenario for this autumn and winter including a second Covid spike and seasonal flu and it set out strong recommended actions to mitigate the risks.

'The report was clear July and August must be a period of intense preparation, ie now. Can the prime minister make clear he intends to implement the recommended actions in this report in full and at speed?'

But Boris Johnson only responded: 'Not only are we getting on with implementing the preparations for a potential new spike, but he will know that the government is engaged in record investments in the NHS.'

Deflecting the question, the PM accused Starmer of not supporting the government's test, track and trace system, prompting the leader of the opposition to hit back by saying: 'It's perfectly possible to support track and trace and point out the problems, and standing up every week and saying it's a 'stunning success' is kidding no-one - that's not giving people confidence in the system.

'They'd like a prime minister who stands up and says 'there are problems and this is what I'm going to do about them'. Not this rhetoric about 'stunning success' when it's obviously not true.'

After being asked if he had actually read the report, Johnson said that he was 'aware' of the document, and in reply to a question to Starmer said his message to bereaved families of Covid-19 victims was that he will 'do absolutely everything in our power to prevent a second spike in this epidemic.'

Labour's Lisa Nandy tweeted: 'The PM hasn't even read the report which estimates a worst case scenario of 120,000 deaths in a second wave and recommends how to prevent it. This is a dangerous level of arrogance. The UK has one of the highest death tolls in the world and lessons must be learnt, fast.'

MP David Lammy said: 'The country cannot afford for him to be as slow to act as in the first wave. We can't let the government repeat the same mistakes.'

Fellow shadow frontbencher Rachel Reeves posted: 'The government were too slow to lockdown, too slow to get PPE to front line & too slow to get a test and trace strategy. Learn lessons and save lives.'

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