Keir Starmer has explained that the Labour Party will support the government on the national lockdown and other Covid restrictions announced by Boris Johnson this evening to halt the rapidly surging number of cases across the country.
Commenting on the measures unveiled by the Prime Minister, including the closure of primary and secondary schools, the Labour leader emphasised the seriousness of the situation facing the country and urged people to “pull together”.
He argued: “The figures are stark; the number of infections, the number of admissions to hospitals and tragically the number of deaths and we have called on the government to take this step.
“I don’t want to quarrel at this stage. I think that the measures the Prime Minister has outlined are necessary. We will support them and I think what the country wants to see is everyone pulling together to do our level best to get through this.”
He added that it is “very important” that people adhere to the new rules unveiled by Boris Johnson in his latest televised press briefing this evening – “particularly the stay at home message”.
He said: “Whatever quarrels or challenges I have with the government, with the Prime Minister, in a sense tonight the really important thing to say is that we support these measures and we’re all under a duty to make sure they work.”
Asked whether there were any other measures that should have been announced, Starmer said: “The most important thing is the messaging and, if you like, the spirit of March because compliance is absolutely critical now.”
He added: “We need to pull together and make sure we do everything we can to make sure these restrictions succeed in controlling the virus, giving the NHS protection… create the space for the vaccine to be rolled out as quickly as possible.”
Johnson announced this evening that the country would enter its third national lockdown since March last year, that primary and secondary schools and colleges will close, and that alternative arrangements would be made for exams this year.
He outlined that people would only be allowed to leave their homes for “limited reasons” such as to shop for essentials, to work “if you absolutely cannot work from home”, to exercise, to seek medical assistance or to escape domestic abuse.
The Prime Minister also told those watching that shielding will return for the 13 million people with underlying health conditions. People in this vulnerable group were not required to shield during the last national lockdown in November last year.
Labour leader Keir Starmer expressed scepticism over the mid-February date offered by Johnson this evening for a possible return to normality and the reopening of schools. He told viewers tonight: “I hope I’m wrong about that.
“I’m just pointing out that the Prime Minister has on a number of occasions indicated dates by which he thinks we will have returned to a degree of normality and that hasn’t happened… I hope we can meet the date the Prime Minister has set.”
On schools, the Labour leader told those watching this evening that “nobody wants to see schools closed and that should always be the last resort, but sadly it’s inevitable that they will be”.
The Labour leader this evening urged ministers to act quickly to put alternative arrangements in place for exams “so that children and young people know where they stand”, and warned the government not to “leave it until the summer”.
Starmer demanded a fresh national lockdown over the weekend, and this afternoon came out in favour of shutting schools as part of his proposed lockdown shortly before Johnson announced he would unveil new measures.
The Covid press conference this evening was announced shortly after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament that the devolved nation would be entering its own lockdown, due to last at least until the end of January.