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Cabinet Minister Refuses To Apologise After Damning Report On Government's Covid Response

Cabinet Minister Refuses To Apologise After Damning Report On Government's Covid Response
3 min read

A senior member of Boris Johnson's Cabinet has repeatedly refused to apologise for the government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic after a damning new report by MPs said errors made early in the days needlessly cost thousands of lives.

Stephen Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, did not say sorry when invited to do so on several occasions in media interviews on Tuesday morning.

The minister was responding to a highly-anticipated joint report by the Health & Social Care and Science Committees which concluded that decisions taken by ministers early in the pandemic last year "rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced". It precedes a government-led public health inquiry into the UK's handling of the pandemic, expected to commence next spring. 

The committees' inquiry, led by former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, said the failure by government to lock down sooner was a "serious early error," while discharging people from hospitals into care homes "led to many thousands of deaths".

But Barclay declined to apologise when asked by Sky News' Kay Burley whether he wanted to, insisting that ministers followed scientific advice throughout the pandemic and "took decisions based on the evidence before us".

The Cabinet minister said: "We've always said that with as something as unprecedented as the pandemic, there will be lessons to learn and we are keen to learn them.

"That's why we have committed to an inquiry and that will be the opportunity to learn what can be done differently and what lessons to take into the future".

Barclay also refused to apologise in an interview with LBC, telling host Nick Ferrari that he had been unable to read it due to it coming out at midnight.

The report praised decisions taken by government later in the pandemic, however, such as pre-ordering Covid vaccines before they were proven to be effective in combating the illness, therefore allowing for a speedy roll-out of the programme as soon as the vaccines were approved.

This morning Hunt told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the government's pandemic response was like a game of football with two very different halves.

In the first half, the government made "serious errors" such as not locking down earlier, which cost thousands of lives, the senior Conservative MP said. He noted that in the second half there were successes like the quick rollout of the vaccine.

Hunt said that early in the pandemic there was a "fatalism" among scientific advisers which led them to believe that widespread immunity was the only way to stop the virus.

Ministers and officials should have challenged that advice, he said.

In an interview with Sky News Hunt said: "We know that some of that scientific advice was wrong, but also that politicians should have challenged that advice.

"You can't just say 'we're following the science' — you have to dig down and ask why scientists are saying what they're saying. That challenge should have happened earlier."

A government spokesperson said: "Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by the scientific and medical experts and we never shied away from taking quick and decisive action.

"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."

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