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Boris Johnson returns to PMQ dispatch box, warning MPs against comparing UK death toll internationally

It was revealed that the UK has the highest death toll in Europe, surpassing Spain and Italy.

Image: PA Images/UK Parliament

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has faced questions about the UK’s approach after it was revealed yesterday that the UK has the highest death toll in Europe, and the second highest in the world.

Answering his first Prime Minister’s Questions since he fell ill, in a pared back House of Commons gallery, Johnson said that international comparisons aren’t helpful, when asked about the UK reaching a total of 29,427 deaths, surpassed only by the US at 71,078.

“At this stage I don’t think that international comparisons and… the data is yet there to draw the conclusions that we want.” 

“We took the decisions that we did to save lives and to protect our NHS,” he added, and said it’s possible they could have taken different decisions.

New Labour leader Keir Starmer replied that the UK government couldn’t argue against international comparisons when its been using such comparisons for graphs “for weeks”, and that the conclusion people will draw will be that the UK was “slow on lockdown, slow on testing, slow on tracing and slow on the supply of protective equipment”. 

The UK has overtaken Italy (29 315), Spain (25 613), and France (25 531), the former two of which have similar sized populations.

Starmer said that although the UK had reached its target of carrying out over 100,000 tests a day on 30 April, since then the number of tests have fallen below 100,000. On Monday, there were just 84,000 tests done, he said.

“What does the Prime Minister think was so special about 30 April?” Starmer asked Johnson.

The British prime minister replied that “capacity currently exceeds demand,” but added that they were working on that. 

“A fantastic testing regime is going to be absolutely critical to our longterm economic recovery,” he said.

He praised the “amazing work of the NHS logistic team getting up from 2,000 tests a day to 120,000 at the end of April”, with the “capacity ambition is to get up to 200,000 a day by the end of May and to get even higher” after that.

Starmer said that a testing and tracing strategy was abandoned in mid-March, with the reason given that it was “not an a appropriate mechanism”.

Johnson replied that the difficulty in mid-March was “the tracing capacity we had in the containment phase, that capacity was no longer useful” since the transmission in UK meant that it exceeded the capacity then. 

In a nutshell, it’s easier now that we built a team on the way out than when we headed in [to the surge].

He said that a “crucial part” of transportation services  would be an increased service that allows for social distancing, adding that this could be a “golden age” for cycling.

Johnson said that he would announce the next phase of measures on Sunday, to be implemented on Monday, and added that the House will be given the opportunity to “interrogate the government”.

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