Boris Johnson says test and trace 'has very little or nothing to do with the spread of coronavirus' amid Yorkshire MPs' criticism

Boris Johnson has hit out at criticisms of the test and trace system as “disgraceful” as a number of Yorkshire MPs raised concerns about the operation of the programme in their areas.

Tuesday, 22nd September 2020, 2:43 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd September 2020, 3:01 pm

Mr Johnson said in the Commons this afternoon that “test and trace has little or nothing to do with the spread” of coronavirus, after announcing new restrictions designed to stem the rising cases.

Normanton, Pontefract, and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper said it was “dangerous” that just 20 per cent of people were receiving test results within 24 hours, despite promises that would be boosted to 80 per cent.

While Barnsley East’s Stephanie Peacock raised again an issue with long distances having to be travelled to obtain a test.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons on the latest situation with the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: PA

Responding to Labour’s Ms Cooper, Mr Johnson said: “In spite of the massive increase in testing that we've seen a 10 per cent increase in capacity just in the last 10 days. Also, we are seeing at the moment 64 per cent of people getting their results in 24 hours, and I do want to get that up as fast as possible to 80 per cent.

“What I can tell her is that we will double our testing capacity by the end of October to 500,000 tests a day and we are already testing more people than any other country is.”

But Ms Peacock said that “the reason we are facing greater restrictions is because the Government has failed to establish an effective, effective testing system”.

She said: “My constituent was not able to access a test for her son, sent home from school and asked to travel 300 miles for a test, despite the fact I raised this case in this chamber last week, and received assurances from the Health Secretary, she still can't get a test.”

While Hull North MP Dame Diana Johnson expressed concerns about a test centre opened at Hull University but run by private firms.

She said it would have “no accountability to local bodies with statutory public health responsibilities for the local community, or the university who are of course responsible for their students”.

But Mr Johnson said: “I increasingly think it's disgraceful that the Labour opposition continue to blame NHS Test and Trace for the resurgence of the disease.”

He said: “There is a complete hiatus in their logic, they're talking absolute nonsense.

"Testing and tracing has very little or nothing to do with the spread or the transmission of the disease.

"The spread or the transmission of the disease is caused by contact between human beings and all the things that we’re trying to minimise, and that is why – of course NHS Test and Trace is vital – but the way to fix the problem now is for the whole country to follow this package of guidance, drive the R down and allow both education and the economy to continue, but there is a complete flaw in their logic.”

Morley and Outwood Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns said it was “such a shame that the Leader of the Opposition and the opposition benches have not always had a positive and constructive approach given the severity of our times”, but she praised Mr Johnson’s leadership as she sought assurances on support for local high streets.

Fellow Tory MP Nick Fletcher, who represents Don Valley, said “blanket restrictions are affecting all people of all ages, immaterial of the actual risk posed to them”.

He continued: “Could the Government therefore not ask individuals to carry out a personal Covid risk assessment. The results of which could determine whether someone needs to shield or can go about their daily lives?

“This will help boost the economy while protecting the vulnerable. After all, many people’s lives are being affected tremendously by these restrictions, especially the young, who as we all know – are only young once.”

Mr Johnson replied: “Well (Mr Fletcher) really puts his finger on the heart of the problem of the dilemma, because of course the tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic is that people who are not badly affected themselves can nonetheless pass it on unwittingly to older or more vulnerable people.

“So your harmless cough can be someone else’s death knell unfortunately, and that is why we have to apply the restrictions that we do.”

But Mr Johnson did respond to calls for help for the hospitality sector from Yorkshire Conservatives Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) and Jason McCartney (Colne Valley).

Mr Percy said: “I must express to [the PM] the concern of constituents in my area where our seven day rolling average is now well below 20 and falling, where people who have followed the rules have seen people at protests and street parties, not having action taken against them.

“And we will now suffer as a result of these further measures, support them though I do and in particular, hospitality will suffer.”

While Mr McCartney highlighted the wedding industry, small breweries, freelance musicians and more.

The Prime Minister said: “Clearly there will be further demands and I know the Chancellor will be applying his imagination and creativity to helping those sectors in the months ahead.

“But the best thing for them is to get back to life as close to normal as possible by getting this virus down and that is the point of the package of measures we’re announcing today.”