Boris Johnson Is Wrong To Claim Government Didn't Say Coronavirus Unlikely To Spread In Care Homes

Public Health England guidance which remained in place until March 13 said it was 'very unlikely' that people in care homes would be infected.

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Boris Johnson has claimed that government advice never said the spread of coronavirus in care homes was “very unlikely” – but he is wrong.

The prime minister told the Commons it “wasn’t true that the advice said that”.

But Public Health England (PHE) guidance, withdrawn on March 13, clearly states: “It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.”

The guidance, first highlighted by the Sunday Telegraph, was issued on February 25 but remained the government’s only guidance for care homes until March 13, when it was pulled.

By that point there were 798 coronavirus cases in the UK and had been 10 confirmed deaths.

There were also eight days between England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty saying on March 5 transmission of Covid-19 in the community was now “highly likely” and the guidance being withdrawn on March 13.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has written to Johnson urging him to “correct the record” in the Commons, insisting “at this time of national crisis, it is more important than ever that government ministers are accurate in the information they give”.

Starmer said the government had been “too slow” to protect people in care homes and highlighted the guidance at prime minister’s questions.

“In his speech on Sunday the prime minister said that we need to rapidly reverse the awful epidemic in our care homes,” the Labour leader said. “But earlier this year and until March 12, the government’s own official advice was – I’m quoting from it – ‘it remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected’.

“Yesterday’s ONS figures show that at least 40% of all deaths from Covid-19 were in care homes.”

Johnson then replied incorrectly: “It wasn’t true that the advice said that. Actually we brought the lockdown in care homes ahead of the general lockdown.”

After Downing Street sources later attempted to claim Starmer had quoted the guidance “selectively”, a spokesman for the Labour leader said: “The British people can read the guidance for themselves. It was official government guidance until March 12.

“We stand by the letter.”

The PM also announced a further £600m of funding for infection control in care homes.

He said: “What we’ve seen is a concerted action plan to tackle what has unquestionably been an appalling epidemic in care homes, and a huge exercise in testing is going on – a further £600m I can announce today for infection control incomes.

“And, yes, it is absolutely true that the number of casualties has been too high, but I can tell the House [...] the number of outbreaks is down, and the number of fatalities in care homes is now well down.

“There is much more to do, but we are making progress.”


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