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Government cannot keep waiting until crisis point to take tough action needed

This is a man who craves to be the nation’s bloke-y best mate, rather than the country’s leader whose job it is to take the tough decisions, writes Sarah Owen MP. | PA Images

4 min read

At every opportunity, the Prime Minister has acted too slow, with weaker measures than the experts advise. We need to know what the government's vaccine and exit strategy is now.

Even before Christmas was cancelled for people in my Luton constituency and tens of millions of others, anxiety was building as scientists warned about what was ahead. The public could see what was coming, and it seemed that the only person who did not want to face up to the scale of the situation was Boris Johnson.

At a meeting with Matt Hancock and senior public health officials, we were told clearly that the change point for London and the South East came at the end of November, yet no action was taken by Ministers until it was – yet again – far too late.

At every point in this crisis, the Prime Minister has been reactive, not proactive, waiting until we are at a crisis point to do anything. Over 78,000 people have sadly died. Families are on the brink of job losses and financial pain. Our underpaid and overworked healthcare staff are exhausted and at breaking point. This is not the situation in other countries, yet it is here, and it is not all down to the new variant.

In February and March last year when countries like New Zealand and Australia were bringing in proper pandemic border policies, mass testing and establishing contact tracing, we were told to wash our hands and sing the national anthem.

In August, when we could have been using low case numbers to fix test and trace and come up with a proper plan to keep schools safe, Rishi Sunak told us go out for dinner three times a week on the taxpayers’ dime.

And again, our last lockdown in November came far too late to deal with the escalating numbers we saw in September and October. All the while, airport testing is still not standard in the UK, despite being in place for nearly a year in other countries.

Nursery staff, teachers, school-support staff and school cleaners must be included in the high priority groups in any vaccination strategy

In any emergency, never mind one where we face a virus that’s a few steps ahead of us, governments need to go hard and early if there’s any hope of stopping even more pain further on. Yet, at every opportunity, the Prime Minister has acted late, with measures that are weaker than the experts advise. In March, he shook hands with covid patients. In June, he told us to do our national duty and get down the pub. This is a man who craves to be the nation’s bloke-y best mate, rather than the country’s leader whose job it is to take the tough decisions.

The Prime Minister’s now set himself a deadline of the February half term to reopen schools. He absolutely needs to use this time to make it safe for staff. If, as we all want to see, kids and teachers back in classrooms at the end of February, then nursery staff, teachers, school-support staff and school cleaners must be included in the high priority groups in any vaccination strategy.

We’re still waiting on a strategy to be published. They tell us that they’re “ramping up” the vaccine rollout, but that’s a slogan, not a strategy.

We should know by now how long it will take to manufacture the necessary vaccines. What measures will be put in place to make sure that they are disseminated and delivered? Why not publish a schedule of delivery? Will people who cannot be vaccinated be protected with ongoing shielding measures? What is the estimated critical mass needed to be vaccinated before we can start to relax restrictions? What measures will need to be introduced or be continued while vaccinations are rolled out? These are the very basics of any vaccination programme, yet we’ve heard very few answers from this government.

To provide hope and a route back to our normal lives, we need to see an exit strategy. The public needs to be informed at every step of the way, not only when it is too late.

Boris Johnson isn’t our mate from down the pub who just ruffles his hair when he gets things wrong, he’s the Prime Minister. It’s time for him to be serious and get on with the job.


Sarah Owen is the Labour MP for Luton North.

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