Keir Starmer presses Boris Johnson over 'big gap' in test and trace

Labour leader says just a third of people who tested positive for Covid-19 have been reached

'Critical or not?': Starmer challenges Johnson on test-and-trace app – video

Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer clashed at a heated prime minister’s questions over the government’s coronavirus test-and-trace strategy and how many people had been contacted.

The Labour leader used the government’s own figures to claim that just a third of people who had tested positive for coronavirus had been reached and asked for details of who they had been in contact with.

Starmer told the Commons that of the 33,000 people estimated to have the illness just over 10,000 were reached in England, suggesting the prime minister was facing a “big problem”.

Johnson said that Starmer had in fact been “stunned” by the system’s success and that 87,000 people had been contacted altogether and they had voluntarily agreed to stop the disease spreading by self-isolating.

Starmer said: “I wasn’t asking about those that have gone into the system. I was asking about the two-thirds of those with Covid-19, of the 33,000, that weren’t reached. This is a big gap.

“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.”

Johnson said the Labour leader had been misleading and the number of people with Covid-19 was an estimate, prompting the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, to intervene, demanding Johnson take back his comment that Starmer had misled people.

The prime minister said: “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. It is a formidable achievement.”

He suggested the Labour leader needed to be more supportive of the government’s strategy and less gloomy.

The pair also clashed over Johnson’s recent claim that child poverty was reducing, with Starmer demanding that he correct the record in parliament.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said Johnson had been wrong to claim that 400,000 fewer families were living in poverty now than there were in 2010 and that it was “generally false” to say that child poverty levels were falling.

“He’s been found out. He either dodges the question, or he gives dodgy answers,” Starmer said.

“Will the prime minister do the decent thing and correct the record in relation to child poverty?”

Johnson replied: “I’m happy to point out that actually there are 100,000 fewer in absolute poverty. Five hundred thousand children falling below thresholds of low income and material deprivation.

“This government, as he knows, is massively increasing universal credit – 7bn more to help the neediest families. We’re getting on with it, we’re making the tough decisions.”