Prime Minister Boris Johnson this afternoon appeared before the Commons Liaison Committee.
He answered questions on a huge range of issues including the testing problems, schools, the furlough scheme, and a second national lockdown.
Here’a a rundown on what the Prime Minister had to say on the challenges facing the country
Boris Johnson admitted there was not enough coronavirus testing capacity.
The Prime Minister told the Commons Liaison Committee: “We don’t have enough testing capacity now because, in an ideal world, I would like to test absolutely everybody that wants a test immediately.”
He promised that there would be capacity for 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.
But he urged people without symptoms to stay away from testing centres – although he acknowledged the reasons why they may want to find out if they had Covid-19.
“What has happened is demand has massively accelerated just in the last couple of weeks,” he told MPs.
When people should get a test:
Boris Johnson told MPs: “Many people are seeking to get a test in the hope that they can thereby be released to get on with their lives in the normal way – people who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive, for instance, they are seeking to get a test to ensure that they are OK to go to work.”
He told the Liaison Committee: “That is perfectly reasonable, and I understand why people are doing that, but the advice and the guidance is that people should seek a test not in those circumstances but when they have symptoms.”
Boris Johnson said it was important for teachers and parents to examine the Public Health England guidance about testing.
When pupils should be sent home
Groups of pupils should only be sent home if there had been a positive test, rather than someone just developing symptoms, the Prime Minister said.
“The reasons for sending such a class home, or a bubble home, would be if somebody tests positive,” he said.
What’s being done to increase test availability
The Prime Minister told MPs: “Everything is being done that we possibly can to increase testing capacity.”
Boris Johnson told the Liaison Committee that includes “automation, batch testing, securing supplies abroad”.
He said a total of four new labs were being built across the country and 300 people were being hired.
“Testing capacity just in the last two weeks has gone up 10%,” he added.
What he said about a possible inquiry into the government’s handling of Covid-19
Mr Johnson said an inquiry into the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic would “look at everything that has gone wrong and gone right”.
But he said it would not be a “good use of official time at the moment”, and declined to indicate when the inquiry could begin.
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Civil Service reform
The Prime Minister also faced questions on the civil service from Tory MP William Wragg – chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee.
Mr Wragg asked Mr Johnson why he thought the civil service requires reform.
Mr Johnson said: “I think that they are fantastic public servants and I think that they deliver extraordinary things every day for the British public and every level of government.
“I do think, as I said in a speech in Dudley, I do think perhaps there are lessons we need to draw from this… maybe there are some times when we need people to be able to move faster, project speed is of great value I think to the workings of our civil service.
“And we certainly won’t be shy of reform where it is necessary.”
On current testing levels
Mr Johnson said: “Actually, and I know that many people have had infuriating experiences, and I do sympathise with them.
“And we are trying to get as many tests out as we possibly can. But 89% get their results within 24 hours, if you have an in person test.
“And the distance that you have to travel to get a test has come down just in the last week. On average from about six or seven miles to about five miles.
“We are putting out many, many more tests.”
On the Furlough Scheme
Boris Johnson promised the Government would show “creativity and flexibility” in providing support for the economy as the furlough scheme ends at the end of October.
“This government has done more than virtually any other government around the world to support people at risk of losing their jobs because of Covid,” the Prime Minister said.
“The coronavirus job retention scheme, the furlough money is 80% of people’s incomes compared with 70% in France, 70% in Spain, only 60% in Germany.
“Going forward … we will continue to show great creativity and flexibility, which the Chancellor has shown, in trying to look after every sector of the economy.”
On a second lockdown
A second national lockdown would be likely to have “disastrous” financial consequences for the UK, Boris Johnson said.
He was asked by Conservative MP and chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Julian Knight, whether the country could afford another national lockdown.
Mr Johnson replied: “I don’t want a second national lockdown – I think it would be completely wrong for this country and we are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.
“And can we afford it? I very much doubt that the financial consequences would be anything but disastrous, but we have to make sure that we defeat the disease by the means that we have set out.
“So when I see people arguing against the rule of six or saying that the Government is coming in too hard on individual liberties and so on – I totally understand that and I sympathise with that, but we must, must defeat this disease.”
On musicians and performers
Liaison Committee chairman Sir Bernard Jenkin told the Prime Minister that musicians, singers and performers had “fallen through the cracks of the support schemes available”.
He said: “They are economically very distressed and they are emotionally very distressed because they can’t fulfil their vocation.”
Sir Bernard asked Mr Johnson what support could be given to them, to which the Prime Minister replied: “What we need to do is to get back to a world where everybody meeting together to sing, to perform in a traditional way has a ticket to ride as it were.
“The knowledge that they are not infectious – that you have a green light on your head saying ‘I can’t transmit it to you’ – and so both the performers and the audience have that confidence.”
Mr Johnson earlier told Julian Knight that the best way to help the arts and culture sector was to “get these businesses going again and to get the theatres lit again, by having the virus down and having a testing regime that allows us to do that”.
On a ‘pregnancy-style test’
Asked about his aim of having a “pregnancy-style test” in place within months, Boris Johnson said: “I am going to be cautious and say that I can’t sit here today and say that we have such a ‘pregnancy-style test’… today.
“It is right for Government to invest in such a project.”
On the R value
Boris Johnson told the Liaison Committee that the “single most important fact” in determining the state of coronavirus in the UK is the R value.
The Prime Minister said: “At the moment, alas, alas, alas, the R – having been under one for so many months after the fantastic efforts of the British people – the R is above one.
“That’s the most important thing we have to look at.”
The R number indicates the number of people that an infected person will pass the virus on to. A value above one suggests the virus is spreading exponentially.