Coronavirus: Sir Keir Starmer calls for ‘national consensus’ on plan

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Image copyright EPA Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for a “national consensus” on tackling coronavirus when the UK begins to move out of lockdown. Ahead of talks with the PM and other opposition leaders this week, Sir Keir set out his priorities for the next phase of the response to the virus.He is…

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for a “national consensus” on tackling coronavirus when the UK begins to move out of lockdown.

Ahead of talks with the PM and other opposition leaders this week, Sir Keir set out his priorities for the next phase of the response to the virus.

He is calling for more ambitious targets on testing and new safety standards in the workplace.

Boris Johnson is expected to reveal a “road map” out of lockdown on Sunday.

Ministers are required by law to review the UK’s lockdown restrictions every three weeks, with the next review due by Thursday. Mr Johnson has warned the UK must not lift restrictions too soon.

Many companies have been shut since widespread limits on everyday life were imposed on 23 March in a bid to limit the effects of the virus’s spread on the NHS.

Sir Keir, who took over as leader last month, said Labour supported the restrictions being extended and pledged to work “constructively” with the government.

But he reiterated his criticism of Mr Johnson’s handling of the crisis, saying the government was “slow to implement the lockdown, slow on testing and slow to get PPE (personal protective equipment) to frontline workers”.

“We need to learn from those mistakes,” he said. “We want to support the government to get this right and that is why we need a national consensus on what happens next.

“Our priority is protecting the public’s health and saving lives. That is why we supported the lockdown and again support the restrictions staying in place at this time.”

He said he had seven “core principles” which he believed should be considered by the government as part of its planning for an exit strategy.

These include bringing in a “national safety standard” for businesses and schools and setting an “ambitious target” for contact tracing. He also called for bespoke support for individuals and industries facing particular challenges, such as the hospitality sector.

Sir Keir also called for the government to address the TUC’s concerns about the government’s draft guidance on getting people back to work, after the union said the plan could compromise workers’ safety.

And ministers should “urgently make the existing furlough more flexible” to manage people’s gradual return to full and part-time work.

About 2.5 million people registered last week for the scheme aimed at helping people put on leave due to the coronavirus pandemic, bringing the total claims to 6.3 million – 23% of the employed workforce.

On vaccines, Sir Keir said the government should set out how it intends to ensure the manufacture and distribution of any vaccine, while ministers should also publish a national plan for the winter flu season.

A plan to ensure supply chains for protective equipment for key workers were guaranteed and a “structured approach to easing and tightening restrictions” must also be formed, he said.

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Mr Johnson is expected to reveal a “roadmap” out of lockdown on Sunday, but in a video message on Monday he said the the UK must not lift restrictions too soon.

In the video, posted on Twitter, Mr Johnson said: “The worst thing we could do now is ease up too soon and allow a second peak of coronavirus.”

The prime minister said the UK would only be able to move on to “the second phase of this conflict” when the government’s five tests had been met, including a sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths and being confident any adjustments would not risk a second peak which could overwhelm the health service.