Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has attacked Boris Johnson over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak after the prime minister returned to work.
Johnson marked his comeback with a speech outside 10 Downing Street on Monday morning, three weeks to the day since his own COVID-19 ordeal when he was admitted to intensive care.
With the UK’s lockdown lasting until 7 May at the earliest, the PM promised “maximum possible transparency” with the public over the government’s plans to ease the restrictions.
After Johnson’s speech, Rayner accused his government of “costing lives” with its initial response to the outbreak, with the UK having “one of the worst death rates worldwide”.
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The newly elected deputy leader wrote on Twitter:
As of Sunday, the government’s official death toll in hospitals stood at 20,732: the fifth highest in the world.
On 13 March, with the UK still 10 days from lockdown, Rayner was one of the first dissenting voices from Labour’s ranks about the government’s coronavirus strategy, calling for Johnson “to pull his finger out”.
Rayner’s latest sharp criticism of Johnson on Monday came as a number of Conservative MPs hailed his return to work:
Johnson said he was not in a position to say when or how the measures would be relaxed when he gave his first speech after three weeks off with coronavirus.
But, standing in Downing Street on Monday, he said the government would be sharing more on this “in the coming days” as the nation entered its fifth week of lockdown.
Ministers have faced growing demands from Tory MPs, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and businesses on giving greater clarity on a way out of the severe restrictions.
Amid fears over how long the public can continue with the struggle to adhere to the measures, Johnson warned that the fight against Covid-19 is now at the point of “maximum risk”.
But he said the UK is “coming now to the end of the first phase of this conflict” as he prepares to refine the “economic and social restrictions” while ensuring the disease does not rapidly spread.
“We simply cannot spell out now how fast or slow or even when those changes will be made, though clearly the government will be saying much more about this in the coming days,” he said.
“And I want to serve notice now that these decisions will be taken with the maximum possible transparency.
“And I want to share all our working and our thinking, my thinking, with you, the British people.”
He pledged to build “the biggest possible consensus” by “bringing in opposition parties as far as we possibly can”.
Additional reporting by PA.