Coronavirus: Starmer will address ‘serious mistakes’ in government’s handling of COVID-19

Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to work with the government to fight the coronavirus pandemic but has also said “serious mistakes” have been made in handling the crisis.

The newly-elected Labour Party leader said he would work “constructively” with the Conservatives, but added that ministers had been too slow to explain why the UK is “so far behind” on testing.

He also called for “blockages in the system” which are delaying the delivery of protective equipment – known as PPE – to frontline workers to be “addressed quickly”.

It came after the PM wrote to opposition party leaders, telling them “we have a duty to work together at this moment of national emergency”.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Sir Keir said: “There will be many times when, and there are many issues upon which, I will fundamentally disagree with the prime minister.

“However, there will also be times when Labour can – and must – engage constructively with the government.

“Now is such a time. Coronavirus is a national emergency. It is also a global emergency. Everyone is anxious about what the next few months will bring, but we know we must be resolute in our determination to see this virus defeated, as it will be.

“I want to see the government succeed in this: to save lives and protect livelihoods. This is a national effort and all of us should be asking what more we can do.”

Sir Keir said Labour would “do our bit to offer solutions” but would also “speak for those who have been ignored”, and expose mistakes, adding: “And let’s be honest, serious mistakes have been made.

“The public is placing an enormous trust in the government at the moment: it is vital that that trust is met with openness and transparency about those mistakes and the decisions that have been made.”

Sir Keir also said the UK should build vaccination centres in towns and cities so “the minute a vaccine becomes available, we can begin to protect the entire population”.

“We should know what that exit strategy is, when the restrictions might be lifted and what the plan is for economic recovery to protect those who have been hardest hit,” he added.

“There will be many more difficult days ahead. Great sacrifices must be made because of a crisis that was unimaginable only a few months ago. But Britain is a great country and we will get through this.”

Sir Keir was elected Jeremy Corbyn’s successor on Saturday.

The UK has been in lockdown for almost two weeks, after the government announced measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

A leading scientist and government adviser has said social distancing measures could be relaxed within weeks if there are signs the epidemic is slowing.

Imperial College London Professor Neil Ferguson said the UK’s epidemic was expected to plateau in the next week to 10 days, but said people’s behaviour was critical in determining what happens next.

The Department of Health and Social Care said on Saturday that 708 more people had died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the total deaths in the UK to 4,313.

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