Politics

Boris Johnson fails to act despite damning COVID-19 report

This week’s refusal by UK PM Boris Johnson to take urgent COVID-19 action shows he has learned nothing from last week’s damning parliamentary report on the Government’s catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic.

One of many criticisms in the report was:

‘…the response has lacked speed in making timely decisions.

 

We must ensure that the UK learns from its experience of covid-19 and does not repeat mistakes in the future.’

But with daily COVID-19 cases above 40,000 for seven consecutive days and the highest death rate for more than six months, a spokesman for Johnson said there were no plans to introduce increased restrictions contained in the government’s “plan B”.

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the National Health Confederation, said immediate action was required to prevent the NHS “stumbling into a crisis”.

Boris Johnson's COVID-19 death sentence

And Professor Christina Pagel, an expert on health data analysis, said:

“We are now seeing cases and hospital admissions rising steadily and an out of control epidemic within schools. The Government must switch to its plan B immediately…”

Plan B includes compulsory face masks in some settings, asking people to work from home and introducing vaccine passports.

The parliamentary report highlights similar refusals to act, such as the nine-day delay in March 2020 in introducing a lockdown which would have saved thousands of lives and the delay of more than a month in September/October 2020 when thousands more died.

There are many more disturbing failings.

The report makes it plain that thousands of people died because the wrong COVID-19 policy was adopted early in 2020 — at a time when Boris Johnson absented himself from the government’s COVID war room.

It says:

‘Several witnesses to our inquiry, reflecting on the early weeks of the pandemic, were rueful that they did not sufficiently question and challenge the advice they were being given.’

Britain's COVID-19 death toll catastrophic due to government mismanagement

This is exactly what Johnson, as Prime Minister, should have been doing.

But not only did the PM not bother to attend the first COBRA COVID war room meeting (COBRA, an acronym for Cabinet Office Briefing Room) on January 24, he absented himself from the next four as COVID-19 cases rose.

He ignored an official warning from his own Health Minister, Matt Hancock, on 10 February that COVID-19 posed a ‘serious and imminent threat’ and took a holiday from 15 to 24 February at the luxurious Chevening country house with his girlfriend.

Meanwhile, Italy, with 152 cases and three deaths, imposed lockdowns on 23 February.

Johnson’s former Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt, broke ranks on 12 March to question the Government’s decision not to cancel large gatherings after Johnson warned many more families would “lose loved ones before their time”.

It was left to sporting and cultural organisations to try to save lives by shutting down. The Premier League suspended its fixtures from 13 March, cricket and rugby matches were postponed or cancelled and theatres closed.

On 14 March, 11 days after Johnson attended his first war room meeting, the country’s second-most senior public servant, Helen Macnamara, reportedly announced:

“I think we are absolutely ****ed. I think this country is heading for a disaster. I think we are going to kill thousands of people.”

Boris Johnson escapes criticism while UK pandemic deaths soar

She was right. Official statistics show nearly 162,000 people have died in the UK with COVID-19 on their death certificates.

Ms Macnamara’s comments were reported to the Parliamentary Inquiry by Dominic Cummings, who was running Johnson’s office at the time.

The report says:

During the first three months of the covid pandemic, the UK followed the wrong policy in its use of non-pharmaceutical interventions.

 

Dominic Cummings told us: It was clear through all the meetings with PHE [Public Health England] and everybody that everything was going wrong; everything we pushed, everything we probed — everything was wrong, bad, terrible.

 

Mr Cummings continued:

 

On the 14th [of March 2020] we said to the Prime Minister, “You are going to have to lock down, but there is no lockdown plan. It doesn’t exist…DH [Department of Health and Social Care] don’t have a plan. We are going to have to figure out and hack together a lockdown plan.”

Disgracefully, it was not until nine days after Cummings and Macnamara had identified the impending catastrophe that Johnson ordered a lockdown, during which time cases rose from 1,034 to 5,554 and deaths from 28 to 331. The genie was out of the bottle.

The report mentions that Professor Neil Ferguson estimated that if the national lockdown had been instituted even a week earlier:

“…we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half.”

According to the official statistics, that’s at least 80,000 people.

While UK COVID-19 cases rose, Australia's slowed to a halt

The Inquiry was unable to ask Johnson about his lack of leadership because he did not give evidence.

In mid-April, there were still 15,000 people flying into the UK every day — untested.

The report says:

‘The UK did not impose blanket or rigorous border controls at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to other countries… A study found that 33 per cent of cases during the first wave were introduced from Spain and 29 per cent were introduced from France.’

By early May, the UK had become the worst affected country in Europe with more than 32,000 COVID-19 deaths

But not until June did the UK insist on a 14-day quarantine period for arrivals.

Johnson continued to ignore the seriousness of the pandemic.

It became apparent on 15 July 2020 that Johnson had not bothered to read a government-commissioned report from epidemiologists warning of the need for immediate action to prevent the possibility of tens of thousands of deaths in the coming winter.

In the Commons Opposition, leader Sir Keir Starmer asked:

“…has the Prime Minister actually read this report that sets out the reasonable worst-case scenario and tells the Government what they need to do about it in the next six weeks?”

The best Johnson could offer was that he was “aware of the report”.    

And four days later, instead of promising measures to restrict infections, he vowed there would be no more national lockdowns.

So when case numbers and hospitalisations continued to rise nationwide, throughout September and October 2020, Johnson refused to lock down again, despite the Government’s scientific advisors warning on 21 September 2020 that a two-week “circuit breaker”, a short and sharp lockdown, could return incidence to manageable levels.

The report said:

‘Mr Cummings explained that the Prime Minister was not persuaded about the need to impose another national lockdown.’

And it noted:

‘This was a key moment when the Government significantly diverged from the scientific advice it received.’

Had more stringent social distancing measures been adopted during the autumn they could have reduced the seeding of the Alpha variant across the country, slowed its spread and therefore have saved lives.

Johnson’s delay in implementing a lockdown was far worse than in the first wave. It was a Biblical 40 days, during which 4,452 people died.

Steve Bishop is a journalist and author. You can read more from Steve at stevebishop.net

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