British PM under fire over COVID-19 deaths in care homes


(Photo: AP)

LONDON, May 13 (Xinhua) -- The plight of elderly people in Britain's care homes during the COVID-19 crisis dominated the weekly battle Wednesday between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his main adversary on the opposition benches.

Johnson came under fierce attack from main opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer during their second encounter in Prime Minister's Question Time in Britain's House of Commons.

Quoting figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Britain's official number-crunchers, Starmer said that for the past five years the average number of deaths in care homes for April has been just over 8,000.

"This year, the number of deaths in care homes in April was a staggering 26,000. That is three times the average and an additional 18,000 deaths," said Starmer.

Calling to rapidly reverse an "awful epidemic" in Britain's care homes, Starmer said Johnson's government had until March advised that it remained very unlikely that people receiving care in a care homes would become infected.

Starmer said the latest ONS figures showed that at least 40 percent of all deaths from COVID-19 were in care homes. He asked Johnson if he admitted that his government was too slow to protect people in care homes.

Johnson said Britain had seen a concerted action plan to tackle what he described as an "unquestionably appalling epidemic in care homes."

A huge exercise in testing for COVID-19 is going on, he said, announcing a further 600 million pounds funding for infection control in care homes.

"It is absolutely true that the number of casualties has been too high, but 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," said Johnson.

Defending the government's tackling of the pandemic, Johnson said the coronavirus afflicts some groups far more than others, in particular the elderly, describing as a "tragedy" what has been taking place in care homes.

Since a care homes action plan started, there has been an appreciable and substantial reduction not just in the number of outbreaks, but in the number of deaths, said Johnson, adding "Solving the problem in care homes is going to be absolutely critical to our ability to move forward as a nation with the stepped program that I announced on Sunday. We must fix it, and we will."

Under Johnson's five-level color coded plan, restrictions will be relaxed depending on the progress of the disease.