The Prime Minister has said the last thing he wanted to do was blame care workers when he said “too many” care homes had not properly followed procedures, but refused to apologise for the remarks.
Boris Johnson told the Commons that the Government took responsibility for its actions during the outbreak but said understanding of coronavirus had “changed dramatically” over recent months.
He said the Government now knows aspects about how coronavirus is passed between people without symptoms “that we just didn’t know” before.
However, minutes from a meeting of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) on January 28 referenced asymptomatic transmission, saying “early indications imply some is occurring”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer repeatedly called on Mr Johnson to apologise for his comments on care homes during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
The remarks, made on Monday, drew criticism from across the social care sector, as well as from unions and opposition MPs.
They were branded a “real slap in the face” for care workers by the Independent Care Group, while another sector leader said the words were “clumsy and cowardly”.
Sir Keir said: “On Monday, when asked why care home deaths had been so high, the Prime Minister said, and I quote, ‘too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have’.
“That has caused huge offence to frontline care workers. It has now been 48 hours. Will the Prime Minister apologise to care workers?”
The Prime Minister replied: “The last thing I wanted to do is to blame care workers for what has happened or for any of them to think that I was blaming them because they’ve worked hard, incredibly hard, throughout this crisis, looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our country and doing an outstanding job.
“And as he knows, tragically, 257 of them have lost their lives.
“And when it comes to taking blame, I take full responsibility for what has happened.”
(Sir Keir Starmer) keeps saying that I blamed or try to blame care workers and that is simply not the caseBoris Johnson
Sir Keir said Boris Johnson’s answer was “not an apology and it just won’t wash”.
His refusal to say sorry “rubs salt into the wounds of the very people that he stood at his front door and clapped”, he added.
Asked again to apologise, Mr Johnson said: “He keeps saying that I blamed or try to blame care workers and that is simply not the case. The reality is that we now know things about the way coronavirus is passed from person to person without symptoms that we just didn’t know.”
He added: “Perhaps captain hindsight would like to tell us whether he knew that it was being transmitted asymptomatically.”
After Sir Keir quoted a frustrated care home manager, Mr Johnson said the Government “appreciates the incredible work” of care home workers, before pledging to reform the sector.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman defended Mr Johnson’s comment over knowledge of asymptomatic transmission early on, saying: “It is a new virus and we’re learning more about its transmission all of the time, and as we’ve learned more the Government and public health bodies have adapted in accordance with the information we have.
“I think the point is we’ve been learning more about the scale and the nature of asymptomatic transmission as the pandemic has progressed.”