Sir Keir Starmer has called on Boris Johnson to introduce a national lockdown across England within the next 24 hours, as he said it was “inevitable” more schools would be forced to close amid surging cases of coronavirus.
He said the country could not “afford” a delay, as the latest government data showed 54,990 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK and that a further 454 people had died within 28 days of testing positive, bringing the official total to 75,024.
“There’s no good the prime minister hinting that further restrictions are coming into place in a week, or two or three,” Sir Keir said.
“That delay has been the source of so many problems. So, I say bring in those restrictions now, national restrictions, within the next 24 hours. That has to be the first step towards controlling the virus.”
Pressed further, Sir Keir said: “Nationwide lockdown. The prime minister is hinting that that is going to happen, but he is delaying again. Do it now – that is the necessary first step to get the virus back under control.”
But with fewer than 24 hours remaining before some primary schools in England are due to reopen their doors, the Labour leader did not back demands from the country’s major education unions for an immediate switch to remote learning.
“I don’t want to add to the chaos that will be cause by having all schools closed tomorrow,” he said.
“Many will be closed, it is inevitable more schools are going to have to close and the government needs a plan for children’s learning, but also for working parents.”
Sir Keir added: “Everybody wants children back in school. There is nobody that would argue with that. Of course that’s what we all want.”
Over the weekend, a series of high-profile unions urged Gavin Williamson to delay the return of schools by several weeks and the National Education Union (NEU) said it would inform its members of their legal right not to return to classrooms in “unsafe conditions”.
It followed the education secretary’s U-turn on Friday evening, as he told all primary schools in London to remain closed as the capital faces surging cases of Covid-19.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, Mr Johnson said parents should “absolutely” send their children to primary schools on Monday in areas of the country where they are still scheduled to reopen, but also declined to rule out the prospect of further closures in the coming weeks.
He added that wider restrictions in England are “probably” going to get tougher, claiming: “We are entirely reconciled to doing what it takes to get the virus down and that may involve tougher measures in the weeks ahead.”