'Two thirds aren't being reached': Starmer says 'big gap' in Test and Trace means infection will spread

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

"A big gap" in the UK's Test and Trace system means officials "can’t prevent infection spreading", Sir Keir Starmer has said at PMQs, though the prime minister claims to have an "effective cluster-busting operation" designed to keep outbreaks under control.

The Labour leader welcomed the recent announcement that [lockdown will be relaxed further on July 4](http://Pubs to reopen on July 4 as two metre rule becomes ‘one metre plus’), but said an "effective track, trace and isolate system" is essential and said there is a "big problem" with the UK's.

Sir Keir, citing government figures, said of the 33,000 people estimated to currently have Covid-19 in Britain, just over 10,000 had been contacted by officials.

"If two thirds of those with Covid-19 are not being reached and asked to provide contact details, there’s a big problem isn’t there?" he asked.

He said the economy cannot be reopened without a successful track and trace system and infection spread can't be prevented.

“The prime minister risks making the mistakes he made at the beginning of the pandemic, brushing aside challenge, dashing forward, not estimating properly the risks,” said the Labour leader.

"If we don’t get track, trace and isolate properly running we can’t open the economy, we can’t prevent infection spreading.”

He added: “What is the Government’s strategy for closing the gap between the number of people with Covid-19 and those going into the system, not what happens to those that go into the system?”

Boris Johnson replied: “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 their own contacts and getting them to self-isolate, and it is a formidable achievement.”

The prime minister was told off by Speaker Lindsay Hoyle for saying Sir Keir was misleading MPs with the figures.

"One of us is going to have to give way, it will have to be you," he said, "prime minister obviously no one misleads and no honourable member ever would, which ever side they’re from."

Mr Johnson rephrased, saying Sir Keir was "inadvertently giving a false impression of what test and trace is doing".

The prime minister, as he has at previous PMQs, referenced the Labour leader's former job as a lawyer.

"I understand the constraints of the professions in which he used to work," Mr Johnson said, accusing him of "yo-yoing" for initially welcoming the relaxation of lockdown before appearing to criticise it.

"Which is it, is he supporting what we’re doing or is he against it?" he asked.

Sir Keir said he "does support" the changes, but added: "65,000 people have lost their lives because of Covid-19, the prime minister could welcome challenge to save lives."

Sir Keir also asked about the lack of a heavily delayed NHS tracing app which the government originally said would be integral to the system.

Tech problems were encountered during a pilot of the app on the Isle of Wight and the government has been seeking to downplay its importance since.

NHSX is no longer developing the app alone and is now working in collaboration with Google and Apple.

Sir Keir said the app "really matters because unless someone with Covid-19 can name and identify everybody they’ve been in contact with, the app is the only way of tracing unknown contacts".

He said: “Up until last week, the Government maintained that the app was critical, another of their slides (at the daily briefing).

“But at the weekend (Health Secretary Matt Hancock) downplayed the app, saying it was only ever additional support. So which is it – critical or not?”

Responding, Mr Johnson asked the Labour leader to "name a single country in the world that has a functional contact tracing app? Because there isn’t one".

“Germany – 12 million downloads. I checked that overnight," fired back Sir Keir.

Mr Johnson said Sir Keir was “completely wrong”, adding in the Commons: “No country in the world has a working contact tracing app and I’ve always been clear, we’ve always been clear, that the app would be the icing on the cake.

“If we can get it to work it’ll be a fine thing but there isn’t one anywhere in the world so far.”

According to FullFact, "multiple countries have launched apps, including Germany, France, Australia, Singapore and Latvia.

"However uptake has been fairly low, and it’s too early to say whether they will be effective in helping combat Covid-19."

Sir Keir highlighted the concerns of local authorities that they will not have the powers to implement local lockdowns quickly in the event of outbreaks.

He said: “The real concern amongst council leaders is that they don’t have the powers or guidance to implement lockdowns quickly if needed.”

Sir Keir added: “Can the Prime Minister tell us when local authorities will get the guidance that they need?”

The prime minister claimed local lockdowns had already been implemented, "for instance in Weston-super-Mare or GP surgeries in north London".

"There have been local lockdowns, local crackdowns - we have a very effective cluster-busting operation which is designed to ensure that we keep those outbreaks under control.”

Watch PMQs in full: