Keir Starmer demands Boris hold cross-party Cobra meeting on Covid

Keir Starmer leads political demands for Boris Johnson to hold cross-party Cobra meeting of UK politicians amid testing calamity and surge in Covid cases and local lockdowns

  • Starmer, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford want a cross-party meeting
  • Comes amid fears that the pandemic is spiralling out of control across Britain 
  • UK daily infections hit a four-month high of 4,322 today and R could be up to 1.4

Keir Starmer and other senior political leaders from across the UK tonight demanded Boris Johnson join them for an emergency Cobra meeting amid fears that the coronavirus pandemic is spiralling out of control. 

The Labour leader joined Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford to call for a cross-party conference amid fears of a second peak of cases.

The country is back on Covid red alert today with Nightingale hospitals ordered to be ready to open again within 48 hours – and another swathe of England plunged into lockdown.

Health bosses have revealed the temporary hospital in Birmingham’s NEC arena – officially opened by Prince William via videolink during the darkest days of the outbreak in April – has been placed on standby so it can start treating patients within two to three days.

The dramatic move came as the UK’s daily infections hit a four-month high of 4,322, with figures showing the outbreak has nearly doubled in size in a week and the R number is potentially as high as 1.4.

There are also fears that the UK’s testing system has buckled under pressure caused by the return of pupils to schools and workers to offices. 

While Mr Johnson holds daily coronavirus meetings with ministers, experts and senior advisers, a Cobra meeting – to which leaders of devolved administrations and opposition leaders are sometimes invited – has not been held for months.

Sir Keir this afternoon said: ‘There is mounting concern about whether we have got the virus sufficiently under control. This is the time for swift, decisive national action. We cannot afford to be too slow.

‘That’s why I’m asking the Prime Minister to convene a Cobra meeting and to update the country on the measures the Government is taking to keep the virus under control, including to fix testing.

Sir Keir this afternoon said: ‘There is mounting concern about whether we have got the virus sufficiently under control. This is the time for swift, decisive national action’

Mr Johnson visted an Oxford lab today as the country went back on Covid red alert with Nightingale hospitals ordered to be ready to open again within 48 hours and another swathe of England plunged into lockdown

‘The British public want to know what the situation is and what the Government is going to do about it.

‘I want to make clear too that Labour will continue to act in the national interest. We will support whatever measures the Government take to protect the NHS and save lives.’

Amid growing alarm that the situation is sliding out of control, curbs including a 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants and a ban on socialising outside of households have been announced across parts of the North West, Midlands and West Yorkshire from Tuesday.

A total of around 13million people are now under under local restrictions. And Health Secretary Matt Hancock has raised the prospect of even more draconian steps, begging the public to ‘come together to tackle this virus’.

Ministers are mulling a two-week nationwide halt that could see much of the hospitality industry shut – although no final decisions have been made as ministers wrangle over the effect on the economy.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is believed to have raised concerns about the consequences of a full lockdown at a meeting yesterday.

One option under consideration is believed to be timing the curbs for the half-term holidays in October, and extending the break to a fortnight. That would minimise the harm to children, many of whom have already seen their education seriously disrupted.

However, it is not clear whether the government can wait that long as cases surge, with new figures confirming they are doubling every eight days. Schools and workplaces could instead stay open instead while the rest of society is subject to restrictions.

The chilling developments came as concerns grow about the shambolic testing system, with demand four times capacity and claims the Government’s seven ‘lighthouse labs’ are in chaos due to shortages of staff and equipment.

A leading scientist warned that ‘testing is dying on its a**e’, adding he was ‘appalled by what I saw’ at the labs.

Nicola Sturgeon has called on the Prime Minister to convene an emergency meeting this weekend

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford called for a ‘regular, reliable rhythm’ of engagement between Boris Johnson and the devolved governments, adding that one meeting per week ‘would be a start’

Ms Sturgeon has called on the Prime Minister to convene an emergency meeting this weekend to discuss what further steps are needed to combat the rising number of coronavirus cases.

The First Minister said she has been in touch with Boris Johnson to see if a Cobra meeting involving the devolved administrations could take place.

It comes as she warned further national restrictions could be needed – telling Scots ‘hard but necessary’ decisions may have to be taken in the next few days.

She said this way she hopes to avoid a second national lockdown.

‘Ideally we we will be able to have a joined-up approach across the UK,’ she said, but added she could not remember the last time she had spoken to Mr Johnson.

Ms Sturgeon said at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Friday: ‘Discussions across the four nations of the UK will, I hope, take place in the coming days.

‘I have this morning asked the Prime Minister to convene a Cobra meeting over this weekend.’

She said most of the discussions between the four governments in the UK recently have involved Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove rather than the Prime Minister.

Ms Sturgeon said these talks could also do with ‘sometimes being bit more meaningful, in terms of us actually discussing what we are going to do as opposed to hearing what the UK Government is going to do’.

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford called for a ‘regular, reliable rhythm’ of engagement between Boris Johnson and the devolved governments, adding that one meeting per week ‘would be a start’.

‘There is a vacancy at the heart of the United Kingdom and it needs urgently to be filled,’ Mr Drakeford said. 

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