UK Labour leader Keir Starmer will grill Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab over the British government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis during the first virtual Prime Minister’s Questions.
Starmer will likely spend his first PMQs as Labour leader questioning Boris Johnson’s stand-in over testing, safety equipment for frontline workers and an exit strategy from the lockdown.
It comes after an RAF plane landed at Brize Norton from Turkey in the early hours of Wednesday, after being sent to collect a shipment of PPE – including 400,000 badly-needed surgical gowns.
Mr Raab, who is deputising for the PM as he recovers from Covid-19, and Starmer will be in the House of Commons chamber among up to 50 MPs permitted to attend while obeying social distancing rules.
Some 120 more can take part remotely through the Zoom video-conferencing platform in the first PMQs since Parliament rose early a month ago because of the crisis.
As the death toll exceeded 17,000, the Government came under fire with its commitment to reach 100,000 tests per day by the end of the month appearing an ambitious hope and a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health and care staff.
The criticism comes as Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey joined the voices cautioning against an early end to lockdown, with Mr Bailey telling the Daily Mail that if “we had a lifting and then (lockdown) came back again, I think that would damage people’s confidence very severely”.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government is “throwing everything” at developing a coronavirus vaccine as he announced that human trials led by the University of Oxford will begin on Thursday.
Mr Hancock said it was clear that the “best way to defeat coronavirus is through a vaccine” and that “rapid progress” was being made.
Oxford, where the team is being led by Professor Sarah Gilbert, has said it hopes to have at least a million doses of its vaccine ready in September, while Imperial hopes to start clinical trials in June.
On the issue of Covid-19 testing, Mr Hancock said it was “terrific” that capacity was increasing across the UK, saying it was further ahead than the planned trajectory.
This is despite the fact less than half of the available coronavirus testing capacity has been used, with just 19,316 tests conducted in the 24 hours to 9am on Monday against capacity for 39,250.
The Government is likely to face further questions about its participation in an EU scheme to secure vital equipment after the Foreign Office’s top civil servant, Sir Simon McDonald, made an extraordinary U-turn in withdrawing his own claim that the UK did not take part because of a “political decision”.
McDonald wrote to the Commons foreign affairs committee to say his earlier evidence was “incorrect” and said the UK had not initially joined the scheme because of a “communication problem” after Mr Hancock was forced to deny the earlier claim.
The Liberal Democrats have called for an independent inquiry into the Government’s response to the crisis.
Acting co-leader Ed Davey accused ministers of “shocking failures” on PPE and accused the Government of a “slow response”.