A cabinet minister has refused to apologise for the government’s handing of the Covid-19 pandemic despite a new report finding that errors cost “thousands of lives”.
Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay defended the government’s decision making to Sky News, saying: “We followed, throughout, the scientific advice. We got the vaccine deployed extremely quickly, we protected our NHS from the surge of cases.” Speaking later to Radio 4, Mr Barclay also said he did not think it was an error to delay the autumn 2020 lockdown.
His comments come as family members who lost loved ones to Covid-19 described the MPs’ report as “laughable” for failing to take evidence from the bereaved.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group criticised the parliamentary report, which was released on Tuesday, as being “more interested in political arguments about whether you can bring laptops to Cobra meetings than it is in the experiences of those who tragically lost” family members to Covid-19.
When asked, for a second time, if he would apologise by presenter Kay Burley, Stephen Barclay replied: “Well no, we followed the scientific advice, we protected the NHS, we took the decisions based on the evidence before us.”
He made these comments despite the report finding that the delayed decision to lock down in spring last year was one of the “most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”.
The 150-page parliamentary report heard from more than 50 witnesses who guided Britain’s response to the pandemic, but did not include testimony from any bereaved families.
The report concluded that the government’s early handling of Covid-19 “amounted in practice” to a pursuit of herd immunity. It also found that people needlessly died in care homes during the pandemic because the social care sector was treated as an “afterthought”.
Hannah Brady, spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, reacted to the findings, saying: “The report manages to barely mention the over 150,000 bereaved families. 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.”
Ms Brady condemned the report as “laughable” and said it was “more interested in political arguments about whether you can bring laptops to Cobra meetings that it is in the experiences of those who tragically lost parents, partners or children to Covid-19. This is an attempt to ignore and gaslight bereaved families, who will see it as a slap in the face.”
Ms Brady argued that the report proved more than ever that any upcoming inquiry into the pandemic “must have bereaved families at its heart”.
She said: “That is the only way that the serious questions, like why families were told their loved ones were not fit for intensive care without medical assessment, or advised by 111 to keep their loved ones at home even in their dying moments or why there were even more deaths in care homes in the second wave than the first, will be answered.”
Mr Barclay, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said on Tuesday morning that the inquiry should consider “what information the government [had] on something that was unprecedented. Were the decisions informed by the science at the time and do we now know different things about the pandemic to what we knew in February in 2020?”
He added: “And of course we’ve learnt a huge amount, but we did take decisions to move quickly, that is why the vaccine was deployed at pace, that was a success that the report recognises. We’re going to have an inquiry to look at the lessons to take forward to the future.”
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