Dominic Raab has admitted the government does not know how many care home staff have died from Covid-19 in the first virtual prime minister’s questions.
The first secretary of state, who is deputising for Boris Johnson while the prime minister recovers from the virus, was quizzed by Labour party leader, Keir Starmer, who accused the government of being far slower than other EU countries on testing and said its personal protective equipment strategy was not working.
Asked how many NHS and care staff had died from the virus, Raab said: “On the latest figures my understanding is 69 people have died within the NHS of coronavirus and I don’t have the precise figure for care homes – they are more difficult establish in relation to care home workers as opposed to care home residents.
“Every one of those is a tragedy and that can only double down our efforts to tackle this virus.”
Starmer, who was taking part in his first PMQs as Labour leader, said he was disappointed that there was no figure and said was putting Raab “on notice” that he would ask the same question next week. He told the Commons how care home staff were scared and having to make their own masks.
The two men were in the chamber in person while many MPs asked Raab questions via video-link.
Earlier in the day care minister Helen Whateley said 15 care workers and 61 NHS workers had died from coronavirus, prompting questions over the accuracy of figures being used by ministers. The true number of deaths is estimated to be far higher than official figures.
On testing Starmer said that with just eight days to go until the promised 100,000 tests a day was due to be achieved, only 18,000 were completed in the last 24 hours.
Raab said: “I have to correct him. Our capacity is now 40,000 per day so I think that is an incredibly important milestone. And of course he’s right to say that in the final week that will require a big increase.”
“I can reassure him that we are working with a range of commercial partners to boost the testing to get to that 100,000 a day.”
He said two “super-labs” in Milton Keynes and Alderly Park in Cheshire were fully functional and another in Glasgow would open later this week.
However, Starmer hit back, saying: “I didn’t need correcting because I gave the figure for the actual tests a day. The first secretary says there’s capacity for 40,000 a day.
“That means hat the day before yesterday 40,000 tests could have been carried out but only 18,000 tests were actually carried out.
“Why isn’t the government using all the tests available, every day?”
Raab said they were making good progress and wanted to encourage people to come forward to take tests and understood the transport challenges people had experienced to get to sites.