Sir Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of being “behind the curve at every stage” when responding to the pandemic as the Government’s figure for coronavirus deaths passed 100,000.
The Labour leader said the Prime Minister had shown a “reluctance to take tough decisions” throughout the crisis as the UK exceeded the “awful milestone” on Tuesday.
Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference that he is “deeply sorry” for every life lost to Covid-19 but insisted “we truly did everything we could” to minimise loss of life and suffering.
But Sir Keir argued that ministers were too slow in numerous aspects of the response: on imposing lockdowns, on delivering protective equipment, on testing and on limiting household mixing over Christmas.
“There’s a strong sense I think that our Government has been behind the curve at every stage,” Sir Keir told reporters, as he struck out against the “national tragedy”.
“There has been a reluctance to take tough decisions when they needed to be taken.
“And here we are today we find ourselves with this awful milestone of 100,000 deaths from Covid.”
Sir Keir rejected the assertion that Mr Johnson was adequately weighing the interests of public health against the need to keep the nation’s finances afloat, arguing the UK ended 2020 with the highest death toll in Europe and one of the deepest recessions of any major economy.
“And therefore the argument that the Prime Minister was carefully balancing one against the other simply doesn’t work,” Sir Keir said.
Sir Keir said the current tough decision being awaited from the Prime Minister is on border controls to prevent the arrival of new coronavirus variants from overseas.
The Labour leader argued that all arrivals must be forced to quarantine in hotels, amid suggestions the Government may limit the measure to British residents returning from high-risk countries.
“It’s very clear that we need to have quarantine comprehensively in hotels for everybody coming into the country, we need much stronger defences at our borders. We were one of the slowest countries to take any measures on our borders,” Sir Keir said.
On Tuesday, the number of people who have died in the UK within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 passed 100,000.
But using the more comprehensive method of inspecting death certificates where coronavirus is involved, figures from statistics agencies show there has been more than 115,000 deaths.