PMQs: Johnson promises regular testing for 'high contact' professions

Published
media captionBoris Johnson says black and minority ethnic workers are at the “forefront of the of the struggle against the coronavirus”

Workers in close contact with the public will get coronavirus tests even if they are not showing symptoms, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

The PM said the move would help mitigate higher risks faced by black and minority ethnic workers in "frontline" transport and health roles.

"High contact professions" would now get expanded and targeted testing, he told MPs at Prime Minister's Questions.

It followed criticism from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Sir Keir referenced a Public Health England report, saying: "That report concluded that death rates are highest among black and Asian ethnic groups and it went on to say, and this was the important bit, that it is already clear that relevant guidance and key policies should be adapted to mitigate the risk, already clear.

"If it is already clear that guidance and policy need to be changed, why has the government not already acted?"

'Already acting'

The report did not include any recommendations, and the government said it was carrying out more work to find out why risks were higher for certain groups, including whether housing density or profession played a role.

image source, Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament
image captionSir Keir Starmer accused the PM of failing to take action

But Mr Johnson said the government was "already acting" to mitigate coronavirus risks for black and minority ethnic groups, after Sir Keir accused him of failing to take action.

He said: "We are looking at the particular exposure of black and minority ethnic groups to coronavirus and be in no doubt they have been at the forefront of the struggle against coronavirus whether it is in the NHS or public transport."

He said he had reached an agreement with Dido Harding, head of the NHS England's test and trace system, to implement the new measures.

Mr Johnson said: "What we are doing first and most directly is to ensure that those high-contact professions get expanded and targeted testing now."

He said 44% of the NHS workforce in London were from black and minority ethnic groups.

'Vulnerable families'

The prime minister also announced a £63m fund aimed at helping vulnerable families, after Sir Keir called for free school meals to be extended over the summer holiday.

image source, Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament
image captionThe prime minister announced money for local authorities to aid families

"We are announcing a further £63m of local welfare assistance to be used by local authorities at their discretion to help the most vulnerable families," Mr Johnson told MPs.

"This government has put its arms around the people of this country throughout this crisis and has done its absolute best to help."

The extra money was welcomed by the Local Government Association, but it added: "Many households are likely to be economically vulnerable for some time to come and it is vital that the government puts local welfare funding on a long-term, sustainable footing.

"The ability of councils to provide preventative support to all households who need it is vital if they are to ensure households can be financially secure and can benefit from council efforts to reboot local economies once the virus is defeated."

Downing Street said the government was looking at whether to extend furlough scheme eligibility for workers who are shielding for health reasons, after it was raised at PMQs.

Answering a question from Labour MP Vicky Foxcroft, the prime minister said: "Clearly newly-shielded people may be asking themselves whether they are entitled to furlough funds.

"I've been made aware of the issue very recently and I can assure her that we will be addressing it forthwith."