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Labour Claims Boris Johnson Misled Parliament Over Asymptomatic Covid Claim

A Downing Street spokesperson has denied the claims

3 min read

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been accused of misleading the Commons after he claimed ministers were not made aware of asymptomatic Covid transmission.

Labour has accused the Prime Minister of "inadvertently" misleading MPs after he made the claim at Prime Minister's Questions that ministers "didn't know" the virus could be spread by those without symptoms.

It comes after the High Court ruled earlier this week that the government acted unlawfully when it allowed patients to be transferred from hospitals to care homes without testing them in March 2020.

Dr Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris, who brought the legal challenge, said the approach had lead to a "shocking death toll" among residents of care homes during the pandemic.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised for the loss of life during the pandemic on Wednesday, but said the government had been following scientific advice at the time.

"What we didn't know in particular was that Covid could be transmitted asymptomatically in the way that it was," he told MPs.

And former health secretary Matt Hancock, who was leading the government's response, claimed the judgement proved that "we ministers were not told about the asymptomatic transmission."

"This is a really important scientific fact," he told the BBC. "The most important thing is we learn these lessons as a country how to handle pandemics because there will be a future one.

"Yes, my heart goes out to all those who lost loved ones, all the families affected, including my own.

"What is the most important thing at this stage is we learn all the right lessons for the future as well." 

But speaking on Thursday, shadow Commons leader Thangnam Debbonaire said: "I am afraid that I believe the Prime Minister may have inadvertently misled the House, because on 28 January 2020 advice from the Scientific Group for Emergencies...on asymptomatic transmission included that 'early indications imply some is occuring'".

She added that chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance had also told the BBC's Today programme on 13 March 2020 that it was "quite likely that there is some degree of symptomatic transmission".

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the comments proved they had the "receipts" to prove MPs had been misled.

But a Downing Street spokesperson hit back against the claims, saying: "No, I think the Prime Minister was being clear. I'm sure you'll remember there was a great deal of characteristics about this virus being reported at this time.

"The government cannot simply act on unsubstantiated reports, it's the government's job to consider all the advice and act accordingly." 

They added: "But every government was facing a great deal of uncertainty about how exactly this virus operated, and it was against that backdrop that decisions were being made."

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