Coronavirus: Labour would have acted more quickly to curb outbreak if I was PM, says Corbyn
Labour leader says failure to test nearly half a million NHS staff and care workers is ‘ludicrous’
In a valedictory interview as he prepares to stand down as Labour leader, Mr Corbyn said he hoped the government would have recognised the severity of the outbreak sooner if he had been elected prime minister.
Mr Corbyn also said it was “ludicrous” that nearly 500,000 NHS staff and care workers have not been tested for coronavirus, urging ministers to “get on top of testing”.
The government has been under fire over the testing capacity for the virus, with the UK lagging behind other countries such as Germany, Italy and South Korea.
Downing Street admitted only 2,000 of the 125,000 NHS staff who are self isolating have been tested for the virus, prompting concerns that health professionals are being kept at home unnecessarily.
Asked how he would have handled the crisis, Mr Corbyn told Sky News: “I hope we’d have started onto it more quickly and recognised the seriousness of it from the World Health Organisation warnings that were sent out in January from China and recognised that the only way you can get on top of it is by knowing how severe it is and that means testing.
“The fact that we are not yet even testing 10,000 people a day is very, very serious indeed.
“There are almost half a million people working in the NHS and the care sector, even they have not yet been tested. It is ludicrous. We have got to get on top of testing.”
Mr Corbyn said the NHS had been weakened by 10 years of austerity, which had caused difficulties in coping with the virus.
“It has obviously been a very fast-moving crisis, we do have to bring it under control,” said Mr Corbyn.
“Testing is a very, very important way of it, but also the superhuman efforts of people throughout the NHS to free up beds, to bring staff back, to bring retired staff back and now to open three new hospitals is wonderful and we should applaud them.
“But we shouldn’t have had 10 years of austerity when we ended up with 94 per cent bed occupancy in the NHS and obviously a difficulty in coping because of that.”
Boris Johnson’s failure to scale up testing “irritates me a great deal”, Mr Corbyn said, adding that he raised the issue with the prime minister three weeks ago.
Asked what the prime minister had told him, the Labour leader said: “He said that at that time, they were testing at 5,000 a day and it was going to increase as quickly as possible.
“Here we are now all these weeks we’re not even yet reaching 10,000 a day and it’s apparently because there’s a shortage of testing equipment because the NHS was not able to purchase it when it needed to because they seemed to be running on the idea that it wasn’t necessary to test.
“It is absolutely ... how can you possibly have an idea of how many people have coronavirus unless you test?”
Downing Street said Matt Hancock would be setting out plans for a “significant increase” in testing on Thursday.
Voting has now closed in the Labour leadership contest, with the winner to be announced on Saturday.