Boris Johnson has been criticised for making an “utterly reckless” visit to a vaccine laboratory in West Lothian dealing with an outbreak of coronavirus.
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said Johnson had shown an “absolutely shocking error of judgment” and accused him of putting “politics before public health”.
A number of Covid-19 cases had been reported at the Valneva site in Livingston ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit on Thursday – an event which had already received some criticism.
Valneva’s chief financial officer David Lawrence told the Daily Record that Downing Street was informed of the outbreak ahead of the trip.
“The Prime Minister’s visit was Covid-compliant. Our team had approved all aspects of his visit from a safety perspective and the site director is comfortable that no risks were taken.”
In a statement to the PA news agency, Valneva said Johnson’s visit was “Covid-compliant” and that the site’s director is “comfortable that no risks were taken”.
The statement said: “Valneva is absolutely committed to safeguarding the health of our employees. A number of coronavirus cases were reported among staff at Valneva’s Livingston, Scotland site in January.
“As Covid-19 control procedures were in place, those staff who may have been affected were identified and, as a precaution and in-line with Government regulations, have been self-isolating; in some cases the period of self-isolation is already complete.
“We have established that the origin of the infection was community-acquired. We do not expect any impact on our plans and timelines for the development and production of our Covid-19 vaccine, resulting from the reported cases.”
But during PMQs on Wednesday, Blackford said Johnson “can’t just explain away this absolutely shocking error of judgment”, adding that he was “irresponsible” to “go ahead with what was a PR stunt”.
He said: “The PM and his advisers knew there was a serious Covid outbreak at this plant, they knew the visit posed a risk but he made a deliberate choice, they made the irresponsible choice.
“The PM put politics before public health. PM, why be so reckless, is it any wonder that people in Scotland have no faith in this PM, isn’t he the worst possible leader at the worst possible time?”
Johnson replied: “I think what the people of Scotland want to see is the whole country pulling together and working to develop the vaccine as that fantastic plant in Scotland is doing.
“One of the advantages of the Valneva vaccine is that it may be able to combat all sorts of variants in a very comprehensive way. It’s amazing, wonderful to see Scottish scientists working to do that. I had a fantastic time.
“Nobody, by the way, raised that issue with me before or since and it is my job to visit every part of this country, nothing and no-one is going to stop me and I am very, very proud of the record of the Government in rolling out the vaccine.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at the time that Johnson’s visit was “not essential” during the current lockdowns, arguing that politicians have a “duty to lead by example” as the public live under strict restrictions.
But his response was to suggest people should focus on “the issues that really matter”.
A UK Government spokesman said: “The Prime Minister routinely visits communities and businesses across all parts of the UK, and this work forms a key part of his role.
“The visit to the Valneva Livingston plant was Covid-compliant. Valneva had approved all aspects of the visit from a safety perspective and the site director is comfortable that no risks were taken.”
Johnson also visited the Lighthouse Laboratory at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus in Glasgow, where coronavirus tests are processed, and met troops setting up a vaccination centre in Castlemilk.