A minister has apologised for the “hurt and distress” suffered by families who have lost loved ones to coronavirus, the day after a colleague refused 11 times to say sorry for the government’s handling of the pandemic.
“The prime minister apologised earlier this year for all the hurt and distress all those families have suffered and I share that and of course I offer that as well,” Conservative Party chair Oliver Dowden told Kay Burley.
“It has been a terrible time for every family affected by this terrible virus.”
Boris Johnson said earlier this year that he took “full responsibility for everything that has happened” during the COVID-19 pandemic and was “truly sorry for the suffering the people of this country have experienced”.
Mr Dowden was speaking in the wake of the release of a highly-critical report by a cross-party group of MPs from the Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee.
The report said that decisions on lockdown and social distancing in the early days of the pandemic last year, as well as the advice from the government’s scientific advisers that led to them, “rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”.
According to the MPs, pandemic planning was too “narrowly and inflexibly based on a flu model”, while ministers waited too long to bring in the first national lockdown in March 2020.
Other key findings of the report include:
• The decision to abandon testing for COVID in the community early on was a mistake that “cost many lives”
• Failing to prioritise social care and discharging people from hospitals into care homes “led to many thousands of deaths”
• Robust border controls were needed sooner
• There were “serious deficiencies” in communication within government and between central and local government
Mr Dowden said the government welcomed the “very good” report and would be “fully analysing it and giving a full response”.
Speaking to Sky News on Monday, Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay declined to apologise multiple times for the government’s handling of the pandemic.
“We followed, throughout, the scientific advice. We got the vaccine deployed extremely quickly, we protected our NHS from the surge of cases,” he said when asked if the government would apologise.
“Of course, if there are lessons to learn we’re keen to do so.”
Asked specifically about his cabinet colleague’s comments, Mr Dowden said: “Steve said what Steve said yesterday.
“I’m afraid I didn’t read the full transcript of everything that was said in that interview, but the PM has been clear on that.”