Boris Johnson has refused to say whether he read a major report forecasting a worst-case scenario of 120,000 coronavirus deaths between September and June.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) if he read the Academy of Medical Sciences report, which was commissioned by the government’s own chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
The PM didn’t answer. Johnson only said “I am of course aware of the report” and that the government is “taking every reasonable step to prepare this country for a second spike”.
An MP could be heard shouting “read the report!” while the PM was immediately condemned by Labour MPs.
One, Chris Elmore, wrote on Twitter “you would think this would be higher up his agenda”. Carolyn Harris said: “He's just not on top of the detail. Yet again.”
The report, which was published on Tuesday, stated the ”reasonable worst-case scenario” to prepare for is a reproduction rate (known as the “R” value) of 1.7 from September.
Thirty-seven scientists modelled a scenario forecasting a second peak of hospital admissions and deaths in January or February next year, with a possible 119,900 deaths between September and June.
However, the report’s forecasts did not take account of measures the government would take to restrict the spread in the winter, nor the hospital use of steroid dexamethasone, which could substantially reduce deaths.
It set out a number of recommendations to stop the NHS being “overwhelmed” in the winter, with Starmer having focused much of his questioning around this.
“The report was clear. July and August must be a period of intense preparation, i.e. now. Can the PM make clear that he intends to implement the recommended actions in this report in full and at speed?”
Johnson didn’t answer the question. He only said the government was “getting on with implementing the preparations for a potential new spike” and that it was making “record investments” in the NHS.
Starmer responded: “It [the report] sets out the reasonable worst-case scenario and tells the government what it needs to do about it, so I’m surprised he’s not committing to fully implement it.”
He cited one of the report’s key recommendations, to expand the NHS Test and Trace capacity to cope with increased COVID-19 cases over the winter.
Starmer said Test and Trace is not currently working “as promised” following the latest figures which showed just 70% of “close contacts” of people with COVID-19 are being reached and asked to self-isolate.
Johnson claimed Test and Trace is “working at absolutely unprecedented scale” with 144,000 people having agreed to self-isolate since the programme launched in late May.
He also accused Starmer of “knocking” people’s confidence in Test and Trace.