The Labour frontbencher claimed Boris Johnson’s Government should roll out more coronavirus antibody tests in its mission to defeat the spreading of the deadly virus. Speaking on BBC Two’s Politics Live, he said: “We have to recognise that the Government is trying to get it right, but where we see them getting it wrong…I think there should be a much wider rollout of antibody testing, then we need to say that. We need to say it clearly and we need to say constructively. It goes back to what I said about trust.
“If the public sees politicians bickering about these things instead of genuinely trying to work together to get the right solution – this is not about winning Labour vs Tory or Tory vs Labour.
“It’s about winning for the British public.”
But Tory MP Bernard Jenkin hit back: “Do you think that if it was easy to roll out masses of antibody tests the Government wouldn’t do it?
“Of course they would do it. It’s very easy for you to say ‘oh there should be more antibody testing’.
“I should imagine the Government is doing everything they can to do that is the maximum of antibody testing. Don’t you?”
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The clash came shortly before Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons for Prime Minister’s Questions.
Sir Keir has accused the Prime Minister of giving a “dodgy answer” when he suggested in the Commons that no other country in the world had a functioning coronavirus tracing app.
Asked whether Boris Johnson had misled MPs, a spokesman for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told reporters on Wednesday: “I think it was another example of a dodgy answer from a Prime Minister who wasn’t on top of the detail.”
The spokesman listed Germany, South Korea and Singapore as countries “far ahead of us in terms of having a nationwide app rolled out”.
He added: “The fact that £12 million has been spent on an app which isn’t going to be launched is undoubtedly a waste of money.
“What the Government should have been doing weeks ago is working with companies, looking at other international examples and trying to find a way – that fact that other countries have a nationwide app launched shows that this Government’s approach was wrong from the outset.”
During PMQs Boris Johnson insisted that test and trace systems were in place to respond to fresh coronavirus outbreaks as England prepares for the widest easing of lockdown measures yet.
The Prime Minister insisted that a “cluster-busting operation” would quickly tackle localised outbreaks and defended the reach of the NHS Test and Trace system, even though the promised app now appears a distant prospect.
Mr Johnson was challenged by Sir Keir about the gap between the number of estimated coronavirus cases and those entering the test and trace system.
Sir Keir also rejected Mr Johnson’s claim that no country had yet developed a contact tracing app, pointing out that Germany’s had been downloaded 12 million times.
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The prospect of much wider social contact as a result of the July 4 easing of restrictions has underlined the need for an effective test and trace operation.
Sir Keir highlighted the estimated 33,000 people who are thought to have coronavirus in England, comparing the figure to the 10,000 within the test and trace system.
“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,” the Labour leader said.
“If two-thirds of those with Covid-19 are not being contacted that is a big problem, because if we don’t get track, trace and isolate properly running we can’t open the economy, we can’t prevent infection spreading.”
The Prime Minister told him: “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.”