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Starmer attacks UK government over 'too slow' crisis response

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

PA

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

The leader of the UK's Labour Party has accused the British government of being too slow to impose a lockdown when the coronavirus first hit the country.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially refrained from approving the stringent controls other European leaders had imposed but then closed down the country when projections showed a quarter of a million people could die in the United Kingdom.

So far, more than 12,800 people with Covid-19 have died in British hospitals, though new data indicates the true death toll could be much larger.

"I am worried that it looks like we are going to have a higher death rate than any other country in Europe and there will obviously be searching questions about why that has happened," said Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer.

"I did think the government was going too slowly. We will have to look back in due course."

A widespread lockdown came into force on March 23. Before that, the UK government had urged people not to make unnecessary journeys and to cut down on socialising, rather than closing establishments down.

But Britons had still packed pubs and restaurants and even racing's Cheltenham Festival went ahead, bringing together thousands of punters.

Mr Johnson even joked about shaking hands with medical staff during a hospital visit.

Mr Starmer, a 57-year-old former lawyer who won the Labour Party leadership earlier this month, also called on the government to publish its exit strategy from lockdown restrictions.

Governments around the world are grappling with how to reverse measures to contain the outbreak, which are battering the global economy. Several European countries have announced plans or already begun to relax restrictions.

UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Mr Johnson while he recovers from Covid-19, said this week he did not expect to make any changes to the restrictions for now. They are due to be reviewed today.

Mr Starmer said Labour supported extending the measures in Britain but that to "maintain morale and hope", the public needed to have an idea of what is coming next.

"Overcoming this crisis requires taking the British public with you," he said. "The government needs to be open and transparent. The silent pressures on communities across the country cannot be underestimated."

A government source said all decisions would be guided by scientific advice and data.

"Talk of an exit strategy before we have reached the peak risks confusing the critical message that people need to stay at home in order to protect our NHS and save lives," the source said.

The government promised yesterday to test all residents and employees of nursing homes who have Covid-19 symptoms after data showed the death toll from the pandemic was far higher when the elderly in care were included.

The Covid-19 death toll in hospitals across the UK rose to 12,868 as of 5pm on Tuesday, up by 761 on the day before.

Irish Independent