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UK News

Reaction to highly critical COVID report – Cummings brands prime minister and Labour leader ‘jokes’


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Reaction to the highly critical report of the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has begun, with ex-adviser to the PM Dominic Cummings branding both Boris Johnson and the Labour leader as “jokes”.

Thousands of lives were lost due to delays and mistakes by both ministers and their scientific advisers as coronavirus began to spread, the MPs’ report said.

The report published by the health and social care committee and the science and technology committee, titled Coronavirus: Lessons learned to date, covers a variety of successes and failings across 150 pages.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, U.S., September 21, 2021. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Image: Boris Johnson said earlier this year that he took ‘full responsibility for everything that has happened’ and was ‘truly sorry for the suffering the people of this country have experienced’

The pandemic has claimed more than 150,000 lives in the UK to date.

Some have suggested the country did not go into lockdown soon enough, partly through concern that people would not stick to restrictive measures for long periods of time, while others suggest the government system for dealing with crises in general was a big failing.

Here’s what been said so far by some of those involved:

Stephen Barclay

More on Coronavirus

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Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay refused to apologise for the government’s failings in the handling of the pandemic 11 times

Former treasury minister and now Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay told Sky News the government followed the advice given by scientific advisers.

“We followed, throughout, the scientific advice. We got the vaccine deployed extremely quickly, we protected our NHS from the surge of cases,” he said.

Asked again by Kay Burley if he would be apologising in the wake of the report, Mr Barclay replied: “Well no, we followed the scientific advice, we protected the NHS, we took the decisions based on the evidence before us.

“But of course, we’ve always said with something so unprecedented as the pandemic, there will be lessons to learn, we’re keen to learn them.”

David Nabarro

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Dr. David Nabarro says the report needs to be a learning lesson for the government to be better prepared for the next pandemic.

Dr Nabarro , World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoy for COVID-19, said that delayed action when responding to a virus spreading in communities leads to people “suffering”.

He also suggested that more people would have isolated at home when told to if they had been financially compensated for doing so from the beginning.

“What we’re learning is when you get a virus, starting to really spread in a community, the one thing that you must not do is to delay – it doesn’t help anybody,” he told Sky News.

“And occasionally people think: ‘Well if we delay, everybody will get infected. So the problem will go away, because they’ll all be immune.’ That also doesn’t work.

“So I think what we have to remember is: be rapid and be firm as soon as you get cases of the disease.

“It doesn’t mean you have complete lockdown, it just means you need to be able to test and to isolate and to stop spread.”

Noting that the WHO “don’t think it is relevant to apportion blame at this stage”, Dr Nabarro continued: “If you delay, what we’re learning all over the world, is that people suffer.”

On Test and Trace, he added: “What we have learned in Britain, and in many other countries, is you can’t just tell people to isolate and expect them to stay at home without any kind of financial compensation.”

Sir Keir Starmer

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to the Airbus factory in Filton, Bristol, to launch the party's policy review. Picture date: Thursday June 17, 2021.
Image: Sir Keir Starmer said ministers should apologise for failings

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday lunchtime, the Labour leader said the committee’s report is a “damning indictment” of the government’s handling of the pandemic and that ministers must “accept responsibility and apologise”.

Sir Keir said he is “quite surprised” that “the government has not found it within themselves to just get out there and apologise to the bereaved families and bring forward that public inquiry as quickly as possible”.

Jeremy Hunt

File photo dated 17/7/2019 of former health secretary Jeremy Hunt who has warned that the UK is facing a "now or never" moment to fix the social care system. Issue date: Saturday June 26, 2021.
Image: Jeremy Hunt said the UK should have locked down earlier

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Hunt – who was health secretary from 2012 to 2018 and now chairs the health and social care committee – admitted he was part of the “groupthink” that focused too much on flu and failed to adequately plan for a pandemic such as COVID.

The Conservative MP told ITV’s Good Morning Britain the UK should have locked down earlier and “the prime minister is of course ultimately responsible, but some of the advice that he got was also wrong”.

Mr Hunt added: “There was a groupthink that the way you tackle a pandemic should be similar to a flu pandemic, I was part of that groupthink too when I was health secretary.

“In fact, you know, during that period, an American university said we were the second-best prepared country in the world. We know that clearly wasn’t the case.”

The former health secretary said the countries “that have direct experience of Sars and Mers were the ones who responded best in the first half the pandemic”.

Mr Hunt added that “the question we have to ask is why across the whole of the system in those early months, everyone was advising the wrong approach?”

Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings calls the prime minister a 'joke'
Image: Dominic Cummings calls the prime minister a ‘joke’

The PM’s former adviser Mr Cummings said “The government system for dealing with crises is a disaster”.

Approached by reporters on Tuesday morning, Mr Cummings – who left Downing Street in November 2020 after his relationship with the prime minister nosedived – added: “Me and others put into place work to try and improve the system in 2020 after the first wave.”

He continued: “Unfortunately the prime minister, being the joke that he is, has not pushed that work through.”

Mr Cummings added: “We have a joke prime minister and a joke leader of the Labour party and we obviously need a new political system.”

He also suggested that the testing target “should have been more than 100,000”.

Greg Clark

People walk past a Government sign warning people to stay at home on the High street in Winchester, Hampshire, during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Picture date: Wednesday January 20, 2021.
Image: Tory MP and chair of the science and technology select committee Greg Clark says it was thought people would not obey lockdown measures for a ‘very long period of time’

Tory MP Greg Clark, who chairs the Commons science and technology committee, told BBC Breakfast that the failure to implement an earlier lockdown was a “consensus decision” partly because it was not believed that individuals would obey the measures for a very long period of time.

The former business secretary said: “It wasn’t that the government went against the scientific advice, or that there was some great row about it. Everyone agreed that this was the right thing to do.

“We now know that it wasn’t – that is using the benefit of hindsight, but it’s important to do so.

“So what were the reasons for that? Well, one of the mistakes that was made was that we thought – there was a widespread assumption – that people wouldn’t obey lockdown measures for a very long period of time, so you had to delay imposing them until almost the last possible moment, so that they could have the longest effect.

“What we discovered in practice, was that people were perfectly prepared to follow instructions to stay at home because they realised the importance of it, so that was an error that we made.

“We also didn’t have enough testing capacity at the outset, we had to stop testing in the community, and if you’re not testing that means you don’t have information as to how quickly the virus is spreading, who is getting it, how ill they’re becoming. And so that means that we were operating in the dark.”

Jonathan Ashworth

Image: Jonathan Ashworth said ministers ‘were warned but responded with complacency’

Labour shadow health secretary Mr Ashworth pinned the blame on the “monumental errors made by ministers” in responding to the pandemic.

“Ministers were warned but responded with complacency,” he posted on social media.

“Care homes left unprotected as virus raged. We need a public inquiry now so mistakes of such tragic magnitude never repeated again.”

What has the government said?

A government spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by scientific and medical experts and we never shied away from taking quick and decisive action to save lives and protect our NHS, including introducing restrictions and lockdowns.

“Thanks to a collective national effort, we avoided NHS services becoming overwhelmed and our phenomenal vaccination programme has built a wall of defence, with over 24.3 million infections prevented and more than 130,000 lives saved so far.”

“As the prime minister has said, we are committed to learning lessons from the pandemic and have committed to holding a full public inquiry in spring.”

 Sky News

© Sky News 2021

Written by: Rother Radio News

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