Minister refuses to apologise for government’s pandemic handling as report says errors ‘cost thousands of lives’

UK

A minister has refused to apologise for the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, after a highly-critical report by MPs said thousands of lives were lost due to delays and mistakes by both ministers and their scientific advisers.

“We followed, throughout, the scientific advice. We got the vaccine deployed extremely quickly, we protected our NHS from the surge of cases,” Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay told Sky News when asked if the government would apologise.

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“Of course, if there are lessons to learn we’re keen to do so.”

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.”

Since the pandemic began, there have been more than 160,000 fatalities recorded in the UK where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

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The UK has the second-largest coronavirus-related death toll in Europe, surpassed only by Russia.

The report from the cross-party science and technology committee and the health and social care committee said the UK’s preparations for a pandemic were too focused on flu, while it was a “serious early error” not to introduce the first national lockdown sooner.

But a campaign group for bereaved relatives of those who died during the pandemic has dismissed the report as “laughable” and labelled it an “an attempt to ignore and gaslight bereaved families, who will see it as a slap in the face”.

Hannah Brady, spokesperson for the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, hit out at a paragraph in the report which said the “success of the vaccine programme has redeemed many of the persistent failings of other parts of the national response such as the test and trace system, so that the outcome is far better than would have been the case without this success”.

She said: “What a surprise: a committee led by the previous health secretary and which exclusively spoke to his friends in government, found that the deaths of 150,000 people were ‘redeemed’ by the vaccine rollout.”

She said the report “manages to barely mention the over 150,000 bereaved families”, adding: “Sadly, this is what we expected, as the committee explicitly refused to speak to us or any bereaved families, instead insisting they were only interested in speaking to their colleagues and friends.”

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