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Coronavirus testing ‘desperately needs to improve’, says Labour leadership candidate Keir Starmer

PUBLISHED: 12:09 02 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:09 02 April 2020

Sir Keir Starmer has warned the UK desperately needs to improve testing rates and risks having no viable exit strategy from the coronavirus lockdown. Photo: PA Wire

Sir Keir Starmer has warned the UK desperately needs to improve testing rates and risks having no viable exit strategy from the coronavirus lockdown. Photo: PA Wire

PA Wire/PA Images

The Labour Party leadership favourite has warned the UK “desperately needs to improve” testing rates and risks having no “viable exit strategy” from the coronavirus lockdown.

Sir Keir Starmer, who is widely expected to take over from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, spoke following a virtual event for party members in the East of England held on Wednesday, April 1.

The London MP and former barrister said the opposition had a “vital” role to play in scrutinising the government’s actions.

Speaking to this paper he said: “We have to have the courage to say the government’s got it right when it has got it right.

“Examples of that would be the income support package which, broadly speaking, is right.

READ MORE: Norfolk MP calls for ‘Covid coalition’ to tackle growing national emergency

“But we also have to have the courage to challenge them when they’re not getting it right and the most obvious example is testing.

“The last two days are evidence that the government isn’t putting forward satisfactory answers to questions about why testing is so far behind other countries.”

Sir Keir, a former human rights lawyer, added: “We’re calling them out on testing, not to score a point about it by any means, but to make sure things improve because they desperately need to improve.

“We need to ramp up that testing because we need to have a viable exit strategy for the situation we’re currently in and testing is an integral part of that.

“A lot of frontline workers, NHS staff or carers, are self-isolating.

“In the absence of testing there is nothing we can do about that.”

READ MORE: ‘Extremely slow’, ‘opaque’ and ‘phenomenal’: Norfolk’s MPs’ views on the government’s coronavirus action

Sir Keir added that Labour needed to ensure “effective challenge and scrutiny” of the “very extensive” package of new laws passed to tackle the crisis.

“The powers the government has got – that have been passed in the last couple of weeks – we haven’t seen anything like that since the Second World War and its very important that they are held to account,” he said.

“Labour pushed the government to say that there will be six month reviews - otherwise they fall away.

“Powers available doesn’t mean that they need to be used.

“Politicians must challenge that powers are being used properly.”

And he said personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS staff was “a real concern” and added: “There’s a real sense that something has gone wrong. PPE isn’t where it should be.”

The winning candidate - either Sir Keir, Rebecca Long-Bailey or Lisa Nandy - will be announced on Saturday, April 4.

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