LONDON (Reuters) – Britain defended its handling of the coronavirus outbreak in care homes on Tuesday, saying the government had put a “protective ring” around them and that 62% of homes had reported no COVID-19 cases.

“From the start, we have worked hard to protect those in social care,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament. “We will keep working to strengthen the protective ring that we have cast around all of our care homes.”

Hancock said the number of deaths in care homes had fallen in the past week of reported data. He said 27% of COVID-19 deaths in England had taken place in care homes compared to a European average of around half.

The opposition Labour Party’s spokeswoman for social care, Liz Kendall, said the government had been too slow to tackle the problems in care homes.

A Reuters Special Report published on May 5 showed care homes bore the brunt of policy designed to shield its hospitals from COVID-19, leaving many of the weakest exposed.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Stephen Addison)