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Thu, 2 July 2020

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PMQs: Boris Johnson brands Keir Starmer ‘misleading’ and claims no other country has working Covid-19 track and trace app

PMQs: Boris Johnson brands Keir Starmer ‘misleading’ and claims no other country has working Covid-19 track and trace app

Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer clashed at PMQs (Parliamentlive.tv)

3 min read

Boris Johnson has accused Keir Starmer of making “misleading” claims about the UK’s coronavirus track and trace programme — as the Prime Minister argued that no other country had a functioning Covid-19 app.

The Tory leader said his Labour opposite had been “stunned by the success” of the Government’s plan to test and map the contacts of people with Covid-19, despite ministers last week announcing a major u-turn on a planned smartphone app to go alongside it.

But the Labour leader demanded to know when the software would be up and running — and pointed to Germany, which launched its own app in mid-June, as a country that had already sorted a track and trace smartphone system.

The Prime Minister’s Questions clash came a day after Mr Johnson confirmed that a fresh wave of lockdown measures will be eased in England from July 4.

Sir Keir pointed to figures from the Government’s daily press conference slides showing that 33,000 people are currently estimated to have Covid-19 in the country.

And he claimed that the latest track and trace figures suggest that “two-thirds of those with Covid-19 are not being contacted”.

“This is a big gap and the Prime Minister risks making the mistakes he made at the beginning of the pandemic - brushing aside challenge, dashing forward, not estimating properly the risk,” the Labour leader said.

But the PM shot back: “I hesitate to accuse the right honourable gentleman of obscurantism. He’s misleading on the key point.“

That prompted an intervention from Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, as MPs are not supposed to accuse each other of lying in the chamber.

The Speaker said: “Obviously nobody misleads and no honourable member ever would whichever side they’re on.”

But Mr Johnson said of Sir Keir: “He is inadvertently, I think, giving a false impression of what test and trace is doing. 

“The 33,000 cases in the country is, of course, an estimate. 

“What NHS test and trace is doing is contacting the vast majority of those who test positive and they’re own contacts and getting them to self-isolate. And it is a formidable achievement.”

He added: “Yesterday [Sir Keir] was kind enough to actually to say that he supported our policy and supported our programme. I seem to remember him saying it loud and clear yesterday. 

“Today... he seems to be yo-yo-ing back into a position of opposition. Which is it? Is he supporting what we’re doing or is he against it?”

The Labour leader was then challenged by the PM to “name a single country in the world that has functional contact tracing app — because there isn’t one”.

Hitting back, Sir Keir said: “Germany. App working 15th June — 12 million downloads. 

“I checked that overnight.”

And the Labour leader added: “The Health Secretary said we’d have the app by mid-May. The Prime Minister said we’d have it by the 1st June. Now the government ministers say it won’t be ready until the winter.“ 

Mr Johnson insisted Sir Keir was "completely wrong" to point to Germany as an example.

The latest figures from NHS England, published last week, show that since May 28, 14,045 people who tested positive for Covid-19 had their case transferred to the contact tracing system, with 72% of those then being reached and asked to provide details of their close contacts.

More than 87,000 people were then identified as close contacts and reached through the system, the figures show.

Read the most recent article written by Matt Honeycombe-Foster and Eleanor Langford - Boris Johnson denies ‘lost week’ in imposing Leicester lockdown amid PMQs clash with Keir Starmer

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