Boris Johnson hits back at Keir Starmer in row over care home deaths

Boris Johnson has accused Sir Keir Starmer of ‘selectively quoting’ government guidelines that said the chance of care homes becoming infected with coronavirus is unlikely – despite the document saying this twice.

The row between the pair has escalated with the PM writing a letter to the Labour leader calling his remarks made in the House of Commons earlier today ‘misleading’.

Sir Keir opened Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) by referring to previous government advice from before lockdown was imposed. He said: ‘In his speech on Sunday the Prime Minister said we need to rapidly reverse the awful epidemic in our care homes, but earlier this year, and until March 12, the Government’s own official advice was, and I’m quoting from it, ‘it remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected”.

The PM denied the accusation, replying ‘No Mr Speaker it wasn’t true that the advice said that’.

However, an investigation by independent fact checking charity Full Fact found the guidelines, which were updated on March 13, said twice that it is ‘very unlikely’ people receiving care in care homes or the community will be infected with Covid-19.

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The initial guidance, for social, community and residential care employers, stated: ‘This guidance is intended for the current position in the UK where there is currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the community. 

‘It is therefore very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected. This is the latest information and will be updated shortly.’

The same document also said: ‘Facemasks are only recommended to be worn by infected individuals when advised by a healthcare worker, to reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to other people. It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.’

Sir Keir has written to Mr Johnson, asking him to correct the record in the House of Commons.

But the PM has hit back, saying that stands by the comments he made in the House of Commons. Mr Johnson said Sir Keir quoted the advice ‘selectively and misleadingly’ by neglecting to ‘provide the critical context at the start of the guidance’.

This was a reference the passage mentioned above which states the guidance was intended for the ‘current position in the UK where there is currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the community’.

Sir Keir said he was ‘surprised the prime minister queried the advice of his own government up to March 12’ at PMQs. He has not responded to accusations of selectively quoting.

The row came after figures from the Office for National Statistics found 40% of all coronavirus deaths occurred in care homes.

The Labour leader asked for the government’s view on the 10,000 ‘unexplained’ excess deaths in care homes in April.

He said: ‘The ONS records the average number of deaths in care homes each month. The last five years the average for April has been just over 8,000.

‘This year the number of deaths in care homes for April was a staggering 26,000 – that’s three times the average – 18,000 additional deaths this April.

‘Using the government’s figures only 8,000 are recorded as Covid deaths, that leaves 10,000 additional and unexplained care home deaths this April

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‘Now I know the government must have looked into this so can the Prime Minister give us the government’s views on these unexplained deaths?’

Mr Johnson said it was ‘right’ to draw attention to ‘the tragedy that has been taking place in care homes’, though he did not have a direct answer for the difference in statistics.

He said: ‘The Office of National Statistics is responsible for producing the data that they have, the government had also produced data which not only shows that there has been, as I said, a terrible epidemic in care homes but since the care homes action plan began we are seeing an appreciable and substantial reduction, not just in the number of outbreaks but also in the number of deaths.’

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