Boris Johnson has faced calls to publish the scientific evidence behind the 10pm curfew placed on pubs, bars and restaurants and to “review the rule” if he cannot do so.
Ahead of MPs voting on the controversial policy next week, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said people are “screaming out” to know the evidence behind the move and called the lack of explanation for the Government’s restrictions “ridiculous”.
It came as the Prime Minister admitted work is still ongoing to “chase” up contacts of nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases which were missed in England due to data issues.
Sir Keir said the mistake had “put lives at risk”.
Mr Johnson also defended the combination of a local, regional and national approach as the “correct” way to tackle the pandemic.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir opened by saying the country is at a “crucial moment” in trying to gain control of Covid-19.
He told MPs: “For eight days, nearly 16,000 positive tests were missed by the Government – that means about 48,000 contacts were not traced.
“As of yesterday, thousands had still not been reached. Does the Prime Minister accept this very basic mistake has put lives at risk?”
The Prime Minister said the computer problem has been “fixed”, adding: “All the 16,000 that he refers to have, in fact, got their positive test results and should be self-isolating.
“As soon as we became aware of the missing data we brought in 800 people to chase up those index cases and we continue to chase their contacts.”
Pressed by Sir Keir on why it took “so long to catch this error”, Mr Johnson replied: “The crucial thing is, yes, of course there has been an error, but the data points that we’re looking at, the cases don’t change the basic distribution of the disease.
“Although the cases in the country are considerably up across the country this week on last week, the seven-day statistics show that there are now 497 cases per 100,000 in Liverpool, 522 cases per 100,000 in Manchester, 422 in Newcastle.
“The key point there is the local regional approach combined with the national approach remains correct because two-thirds of those admitted into hospital on Sunday were in the North West, North East and Yorkshire.”
But Sir Keir accused the Government of governing “in hindsight”.
“The Prime Minister can’t explain why an area goes into restriction, he can’t explain what the different restrictions are, he can’t explain how restrictions end – this is getting ridiculous,” the Labour leader said.
“The Prime Minister knows that there are deeply held views across the country in different ways on this.
“One question is now screaming out: is there a scientific basis for the 10pm rule?”
Mr Johnson replied: “The basis on which we set out the curtailment of hospitality was the basis on which he accepted it two weeks ago – that is to reduce the spread of the virus and that is our objective.”
The Labour leader was pressed by Mr Johnson on whether he supported the Government’s rule of six policy after his party abstained during Tuesday’s vote on the matter.
The Prime Minister accused Sir Keir of showing “no leadership”, adding: “He cannot continue to have it both ways. Does he support the rule of six? Yes or no?”
Sir Keir confirmed he does support the rule, but that there is a “lack of clarity” about why particular restrictions have been introduced.
He continued: “For example, in the Prime Minister’s own local authority, Hillingdon, today there are 62 cases per 100,000 yet no local restrictions. But in 20 local areas across England, restrictions were imposed when infection rates were much lower. In Kirklees it was just 29 per 100,000.
“Local communities, Prime Minister, genuinely don’t understand these differences. Can he please explain for them?”
Mr Johnson replied: “I wish I could pretend that everything was going to be rosy in the Midlands or indeed in London where, alas, we are also seeing infections rise.
“That is why we need a concerted national effort, we need to follow the guidance, we need hands, face, space, get a test if you have symptoms, and obey the rule of six.”