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Keir Starmer calls for “national consensus” on next phase of coronavirus response

Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for a “national consensus” on how Britain tackles the next phase of the coronavirus crisis. In a statement ahead of talks with the Prime Minister later this week, Keir Starmer announces that Labour will support an extension of lockdown measures. He says: “Our priority is protecting the public’s health and saving lives. That is why we supported the lockdown and again support the restrictions staying in place at this time.”

The Labour leader has announced the seven “core principles” that should be considered by the Government as part of its planning for what happens next:

  • Keeping people safe by enforcing a ‘national safety standard’ for businesses, schools and other public services to show that they are safe to use and work in. This standard should be developed and delivered in consultation with business groups, trade unions and other relevant organisations.

The Government should also address the TUC’s concerns about the draft back to work guidelines, including ensuring clear enforcement for these standards and requiring businesses to publish individual risk assessments.

  • Mass expansion of community testing and tracing by stating when the Government will hit its daily testing target of 250,000 and recruiting 50,000 people as contact tracers, alongside the use of any workable apps and technology. For tracing to be effective, the Government should set an ambitious target for tracing. For example, the proportion of the contacts of all confirmed cases they will be tracing within 24 hours.
  • Protect key and essential workers by publishing a national plan to ensure supply chains are developed that guarantee personal protective equipment and facial covering to those who need it. Additional support should also be made available to protect staff’s physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Support people’s livelihoods, jobs and businesses by introducing bespoke support for people and industries facing significant challenges, such as the hospitality sector, the self-employed and unemployed.

Ministers should urgently make the existing furlough more flexible to manage people’s gradual return to full and part-time work. The Government should also take further action to address and support people who are being disproportionately affected, including older people and the BAME community.

  • Structured approach to easing and tightening restrictions. Any easing of restrictions should have advance warning to allow planning and be done in conjunction with all nations, regions, local authorities and elected mayors. To maintain public confidence and safety, the Government should be clear that it would rapidly reintroduce targeted restrictions where necessary, should R increase towards one, and spell out how it would do it.
  • National vaccines plan setting out how the Government intends to ensure the manufacture and distribution of any resulting vaccine. This plan should include the steps we need to take to develop the capacity and infrastructure required to deliver a vaccine when it is ready.
  • Preparations for winter flu. Ministers must urgently publish a national plan for the winter flu season. Flu vaccines can take up to six months to produce. This year’s flu season is likely to put the NHS under huge strain. Early planning is therefore essential.

In a statement ahead of talks with the Prime Minister this week, Keir Starmer said:

“We want to support the Government to get this right and that is why we need a national consensus on what happens next.

“Our priority is protecting the public’s health and saving lives. That is why we supported the lockdown and again support the restrictions staying in place at this time. However, we need to be honest with the public about the challenges ahead. We are in this for the long haul. It is imperative that the Government is properly planning for what happens next and properly supporting our NHS and social care services.

“Mistakes were made at the beginning of this crisis. The Government was slow to implement the lockdown, slow on testing and slow to get PPE to frontline workers. We need to learn from those mistakes.

“Labour is setting out seven core principles that need to be considered by the Government to ensure public services, businesses and people are supported and kept safe. People rightly need confidence it’s safe before they go back out to work, travel or use public services.

“When I was elected leader, I promised to act in the national interest and I meant it. Over the coming days and weeks, I will work constructively with the Government on these proposals to ensure we have the best possible response to this crisis.”