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PM to face Starmer after UK Covid-19 death toll becomes highest in Europe

Boris Johnson will take part in PMQs for the first time since returning to work after his coronavirus recovery.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes a morning walk in St James’s Park in London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes a morning walk in St James’s Park in London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes a morning walk in St James’s Park in London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Boris Johnson will come under fresh criticism over his handling of the coronavirus crisis when he faces Sir Keir Starmer for the first time during Prime Minister’s Questions.

The PM will return to the Commons for Westminster’s set-piece event on Wednesday, a day after the UK’s official death toll became the highest in Europe.

The Labour leader is expected to question Mr Johnson on the Government’s response to the crisis and also pressure him to set out a detailed plan on easing the lockdown.

It will be the first time Mr Johnson has taken questions in Parliament since returning to Downing Street after his admission to hospital with Covid-19.

Though more than 32,000 have died in the UK during the pandemic, the rate has been slowing and the PM is expected to unveil his “roadmap” of future steps later this week.

Sir Keir, who took over as Labour leader last month, has called for Mr Johnson to form a “national consensus” on easing restrictions while protecting public health.

Mr Johnson has not taken questions in the Commons since March 25 before Parliament broke early for Easter as MPs struggled to keep their distance in the Palace of Westminster.

He returned to Downing Street last week after recovering from Covid-19, but Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab deputised for him in PMQs as Mr Johnson welcomed the birth of his new son.

Mr Raab on Tuesday warned the “next stage won’t be easy” but he said ministers want to ensure it is “more comfortable, is more sustainable and prevents lasting damage to jobs and livelihoods”.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is involved in UK-wide decision-making through the Cobra system, had earlier set out her own blueprint for easing the lockdown.

Among measures being considering in Scotland is the possibility of joining a social “bubble” containing small groups of friends and family from different households for gatherings, even if that was only possible outdoors.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman confirmed the possibility of easing restrictions outdoors was also under consideration in Westminster, pointing towards evidence showing “there is less likelihood of transmission of this disease outdoors than indoors”.

The prospect of the UK edging towards life after lockdown came as figures showed a total of 32,375 deaths involving Covid-19 have now been registered across the UK.

In Italy, the European country which first suffered an outbreak on a horrific scale, that figure stood at 29,315 as of 5pm on Tuesday.

But Downing Street has warned against comparing different nations’ death tolls, with the true extent of the loss not likely to be fully realised for months to come.

In other developments:

– Professor Neil Ferguson, the scientist whose research helped usher in the lockdown, resigned from his role advising the Government after admitting “undermining” social distancing rules by reportedly meeting his “lover”

– Chancellor Rishi Sunak was considering his options on winding down the Government’s furlough scheme but Treasury sources insisted “no decisions have been taken” yet

– Experts warned that restrictions should be eased “very gradually” to maintain public trust in newly published documents from scientists aiding the response

– Testing again failed to meet the 100,000 daily target set by the Government, with 84,806 tests on Monday.

The route out of lockdown will depend on how successfully the Government can implement a contact-tracing programme to ensure infected individuals enter quarantine.

This will be aided by an NHS app, which Health Secretary Matt Hancock has defended against warnings of an impingement on civil liberties.

“We’ve all had to give up significant infringements on our liberty – for instance, with the social distancing measures and the lockdown – and we want to release those, and this approach will help us to release them,” he told the BBC.

PA