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PMQs: Johnson in denial over test-and-trace system

BORIS JOHNSON has flatly denied that there are issues with the coronavirus test-and-trace system, claiming that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had been “stunned” by its success.

During Prime Minister’s Questions today, the PM refused to acknowledge that the system has encountered multiple difficulties.

Mr Johnson had promised it would be “world-beating” and in place by June 1.

However the test-and-trace app, which has had more than £11 million spent on it, has been ditched due to compatibility issues with Apple technology – despite trials on the Isle of Wight.

The £46 milion contact-tracing contract awarded to privateer Serco has also come under fire for its failings and the revelation that it would not be fully operational until the autumn.

Sir Keir said that an “effective track, trace and isolate” system had become more crucial after Mr Johnson announced a further easing of lockdown restrictions on Tuesday, and a reduction in social distancing from July 4.

He pressed Mr Johnson on whether he thought the contact-tracing app was critical or not, after the public received mixed messages about its importance during daily press briefings.

Mr Johnson responded: “I wonder whether [Sir Keir] can name a single country in the world that has a functional contact-tracing app? Because there isn’t one.”

Sir Keir said that Germany’s app had had 12.2m downloads.

The PM said he was “completely wrong,” adding: “No country in the world has a working contact-tracing app and I’ve always been clear, we’ve always been clear, that the app would be the icing on the cake.”

Sir Keir said that just over 10,000 people out of 33,000 people estimated to have Covid-19 in England have been traced and asked to provide contact details.

He added: “There’s a big problem, isn’t there?”

Mr Johnson replied: “On the contrary, I think [Sir Keir] has been stunned by the success of the test-and-trace operation and, contrary to his prognostications of gloom, it has got up and running, I think, much faster than the doubters expected.”

He also stressed that the 33,000 cases was “an estimate” and claimed that the contact tracers were contacting “the vast majority of those who test positive and their own contacts and getting them to self-isolate” – which he described as a “formidable achievement.”

 Accused by Mr Johnson of using “misleading” coronavirus figures, the Labour leader responded that the figures were from the government’s own briefing slides.

After PMQs, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England said that Mr Johnson made misleading claims about supposedly falling child poverty levels during last week’s session.

Researchers concluded that the PM was wrong to claim, at June 17’s PMQs, that there were 400,000 fewer families living in poverty now than there were in 2010.

They added that it was “generally false” for him to claim that overall poverty levels were falling.

In contrast, the fact-checking report — which is bound to embarrass the PM — found that Sir Keir was correct to say that 600,000 more children now lived in relative poverty compared with 2012 and that the total number of children in poverty was forecast to rise steeply.

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