PMQs: Boris Johnson accused of being 'out of touch' on issue of Covid testing in schools

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (L) and Boris Johnson debating at the despatch box in the House of Commons.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (L) and Boris Johnson in the House of Commons.

Sir Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of being "out of touch" on the issue of coronavirus testing in schools during the latest round of Prime Minister's Questions.

Sir Keir pressed the prime minister to explain why more school children were not being tested for Covid-19.

Taking to the despatch box, he said: "Many cannot get tests quickly. Schools are only allocated 10 tests. Many wait days for results. The outcome is obvious: child and siblings off school, mum, dad and carer off work, and in some cases, all of a year group off school.

"How on earth did we get in this mess?"

Johnson said the virus was of little risk to students in primary and secondary school.

He replied: "He knows we're doing our level best to get every child a test who has symptoms and further, thanks to the efforts of teachers, parents, pupils, 99.9% of our schools are now back.

"In spite of his attempts, through out the summer, to sow doubt on school were safe. The people of this country had more common sense."

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Sir Keir rebutted: " That's such a poor defence. The point isn't whether the children have got Covid, it's if they've got Covid symptoms and have to take time off school.

"The government's own department that one in eight children are off school this week. This disrupts their education. Whether it's Covid symptoms or other symptoms, it's nothing to the point.

"If the prime minister doesn't see that, he's really out of touch with families and what they're going through with schooling day in and day out in the last few week."

He added: " The reality is that losing control of testing is a major reason why this prime minister is losing control of this virus.

"As a result, he's phasing in health measures, restrictions which we do support, but at the same time he's phasing out economic support.

"Health measures and economic measures are now dangerously out of sync."

Earlier, Sir Keir questioned why Boris Johnson said the test and trace system has “very little or nothing” to do with the spread or the transmission of Covid-19, after previously hailing it as a game changer.

Sir Keir asked in the Commons: “Both positions cannot be right – which one is it prime minister?”

Johnson replied: “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 earlier in the pandemic, that we now have the ability to see in granular detail where the epidemic is breaking out, exactly which groups are being infected.

“That’s why we’ve been able to deliver the local lockdowns and that’s why we’re able to tell at this stage that it is necessary to take the decisive action we are… to drive the virus down, keep kids in school and keep our economy moving.”

Sir Keir said: “Pretending there isn’t a problem is part of the problem, prime minister.”

He added: “Is the explanation from the PM that we haven’t got enough capacity because nobody could have expected the rise in demand? That’s the Dido Harding defence – or is it we’ve got all the capacity we need, it just that people are being unreasonable in asking for tests? That’s the (Matt) Hancock defence. So which is it?”

Johnson replied: “I must say that the continual attacks by the opposition on Dido Harding in particular are unseemly and unjustified.”

He added: “Testing more people than any other European country… we’re going to go up 500,000 tests by the end of October.”

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