Boris Johnson has promised that all coronavirus tests will be “turned around” within 24 hours by the month, as he defended the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The prime minister made the pledge in response to a question from his former Conservative leadership rival Jeremy Hunt.
“We already do 90% of tests turned around within 24 hours,” Mr Johnson told MPs.
“Of the tests conducted at the 199 testing centres, as well as the mobile centres, they’re all done within 24 hours and I can undertake to him (Mr Hunt) now to get all tests turned around within 24 hours by the end of June except for difficulties with postal tests or insuperable problems like that.”
The pledge came during the weekly clash between Mr Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs.
This week’s instalment saw the PM defend the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and featured a number of pointed attacks exchanged by the pair.
Sir Keir claimed Mr Johnson’s use of statistics was damaging public trust in his government, prompting the PM to hit out at the Labour leader’s “endless attacks on public trust and confidence”.
Sir Keir hit back, saying Mr Johnson was “confusing scrutiny for attacks”, adding: “I have supported the government openly and I’ve taken criticism for it, but boy he makes it difficult to support this government over the last two weeks.”
In a return to the kind of attacks seen in previous sessions of PMQs before the coronavirus pandemic, the PM said of the Labour leader: “Our policy is test, trace and isolate, his policy is agree, U-turn and then criticise.”
Beginning his questioning of his opposite number, Sir Keir referenced a newspaper report which said Mr Johnson has decided to “take direct control” of the virus response.
He asked: “So an obvious question for the prime minister, who’s been in direct control up until now?”
The PM said in response that he took “full responsibility for everything this government has been doing” and that he was “very proud of our record”.
He rejected criticism from the Labour leader that the test, track and trace system was not yet fully operational.
Mr Johnson said the system had been established from a “standing start”, with “40,000 people engaged in this”.
“Every person who tests positive in this country is contacted,” the PM told the Commons.
He added that “thousands of people are now following the law and self-isolating to stop the spread of the disease”.
Addressing a Public Health England review which found that people from a BAME background are up to twice as likely to die with the virus than those from a white British background, Mr Johnson said he took the issue “very seriously”.
“There obviously are inequalities in the way the virus impacts on different people, different communities in our country,” he said.
The PM added that equalities minister Kemi Badenoch will be looking at “what next practical steps we need to do to protect all our country from coronavirus”.
The return of MPs to the Commons on Tuesday was also a source of contention between Mr Johnson and Sir Keir.
The Labour leader said the scenes of MPs queueing up throughout the parliamentary estate to give their verdict on a return to physical voting was “shameful”, with many not able to do so for health reasons.
He pushed the PM to end the “completely unnecessary and unacceptable” process and instead allow remote voting to resume.
Mr Johnson said MPs should consider “what is really going on throughout the country”, with Britons “getting used to queuing for long periods of time to do their shopping or whatever it happens to be”.
The PM continued: “I do not think it’s unreasonable that we should ask parliamentarians to come back to this place and do their job for the people of this country.”
He did say that elderly MPs or those who are shielding would be allowed to vote by proxy, a change in stance from Tuesday.
This week until Thursday, Dermot Murnaghan will be hosting After the Pandemic: Our New World – a series of special live programmes about what our world will be like once the pandemic is over.
We’ll be joined by some of the biggest names from the worlds of culture, politics, economics, science and technology. And you can take part too.
If you’d like to be in our virtual audience – from your own home – and put questions to the experts, email [email protected]