Ministers were reportedly warned of sustained coronavirus transmission of Covid-19 in the UK two weeks before they told care homes it was ‘very unlikely’ residents would be infected.
The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling committee (SPI-M) released a statement on February 10 which stated that there was a ‘realistic probability’ that there is already a ‘sustained transmission in the UK’.
Yet on February 25, Public Health England told the care home sector that there was ‘currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the community’.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Prime Minister Boris Johnson clashed in Parliament yesterday over the handling of coronavirus in care homes
It comes as Boris Johnson faces massive pressure over the coronavirus care home crisis.
Labour leader Keir Starmer accused the PM of misleading the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this week, after he denied the Government had previously said the virus was unlikely to break out in care homes.
The SPI-M, which feeds into the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), found on February 10: ‘It is a realistic probability that there is already sustained transmission in the UK, or that it will become established in the coming weeks,’ the Times reported.
Shadow care minister Liz Kendall said the document shows that ‘there were clear warnings that community transmission was happening as early as February.’
‘Care homes should have been identified as high risk even before there was community transmission, with a comprehensive plan put in place to protect residents and staff with the PPE, testing and wider support that has tragically been found so lacking,’ she said.
Labour leader Keir Starmer accused the PM of misleading the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this week, after he denied the Government had previously said the virus was unlikely to break out in care home
The Labour leader took aim at the Prime Minister over official guidance from February which he said advised ‘it remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected’
National director at PHE, Paul Johnstone insisted that all of the organisations guidance, including those relating to care homes, is based on the latest scientific evidence.
‘The care homes guidance we produced in February was related to what we knew at the time, and with further evidence, it was updated in March,’ he told the publication.
Boris Johnson was on the rack over care homes following an explosive confrontation with Sir Keir Starmer over whether they had been abandoned to coronavirus.
The Labour leader accused the PM of misleading the House of Commons after he denied the Government had previously said the virus was unlikely to break out in care homes.
Almost 10,000 care home residents have now died of coronavirus, accounting for a quarter of all victims.
He ambushed Mr Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions by quoting official guidance that had been in place until March 12 – well after coronavirus had started being transmitted in the UK.
In a section on face masks, Public Health England advice to the care sector said: ‘It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.’
Sir Keir said it showed the Government had been ‘too slow to protect people in care homes’.
Mr Johnson replied that ‘it wasn’t true’ to say the advice said that. He later refused to apologise and accused Sir Keir of quoting selectively from the guidance.
The Prime Minister admitted to MPs however, that the lockdown could not be lifted until the coronavirus crisis in care homes had been dealt with.
He said: ‘Solving the problem in care homes is going to be absolutely critical – getting the R down not just in care homes, but across the country – to our ability to move forward as a nation with the stepped programme that I announced on Sunday.’
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured on Thursday) said an ‘over-focus’ on the risk of a flu pandemic meant the government had not thought about the need for wide-scale screening
The Labour leader also called on Mr Johnson to account for official figures showing 10,000 ‘unexplained’ deaths in care homes last month.
Sir Keir said there were 18,000 more deaths in April in care homes than the average for that month – but only 8,000 were recorded as coronavirus-related.
He pointed to figures from the Office for National Statistics which showed at least 40 per cent of coronavirus deaths in England and Wales occurred in care homes.
Yesterday former health secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned the failure to deploy coronavirus tests on patients discharged into care homes.
The former health secretary said an ‘over-focus’ on the risk of a flu pandemic meant the government had not thought about the need for wide-scale screening.
And he insisted checks on patients sent back to care homes was an obvious ‘thing that needed to happen’.