It is clear that when Sajid Javid, the health secretary, tweeted about the country learning to “live with, rather than cower from” Covid-19, he wasn’t thinking about the clinically vulnerable that have had to shield – or still are shielding – to protect themselves. And probably not the families who had lost love ones in this pandemic.
As at every turn, the aim in Javid’s tweet was to praise the role vaccines have played in weakening the link between cases of the virus and hospital admissions. It is a fair point to make, they have. But the government is loath to let us forget it. Javid spoke of his “full recovery” from “very mild” symptoms. He ended with: “Please – if you haven’t yet – get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.”
The backlash was swift, from shadow justice secretary David Lammy – who said: “Don’t denigrate people for trying to keep themselves and their families safe” – the Liberal Democrats, and the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group. The group’s co-founder Jo Goodman saying that the “flippancy and carelessness” of Mr Javid’s comment had “caused deep hurt and further muddied the waters of the government’s dangerously mixed messaging”.
Javid has now deleted the tweet, calling his earlier message a “poor choice of word” and adding: “Like many, I have lost loved ones to this awful virus and would never minimise its impact." As with the recent U-turn from Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak over whether they would be fully self-isolating having been in contact with Javid, this was a situation that didn’t need to happen with some proper forethought.
That is not to say that the government hasn’t been putting thought into the pandemic response as a whole – it has. But too often that thought appears to have involved dismissing options that others have made sound arguments for.
The prime minister’s former aide Dominic Cummings is not the most reliable narrator – so his words have to be taken with somewhat of a pinch of salt – but his testimony to MPs and his recent interview with the BBC both give a similar sense.
Cummings told the BBC that he had to persuade Johnson from going to visit the Queen during the pandemic, while WhatsApp messages provided by Cummings appear to show the PM resisting a lockdown in the autumn as he thought people dying from Covid were mostly those over 80. Johnson refused to apologise in the House of Commons when pressed by Keir Starmer at Wednesday’s Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs), saying that things had changed “since we were thinking in those ways”.
In May, Labour MP Yvette Cooper wrote for The Independent that “time and again we have seen similar mistakes and delays in acting on Covid-19 at the border” in arguing that India, where the Delta variant was first found, should have been placed on the red list earlier. Back in February last year, Johnson missed five consecutive Cobra meetings in the build-up to the coronavirus crisis. While the PM doesn’t always chair those meetings, they often do in times of potential emergency. There was also the issue over Johnson calling former health secretary Matt Hancock “useless” in messages send during the pandemic.
In dealing with such a national crisis mistakes will obviously be made, but you would have thought lessons would have learned by now. This latest Javid tweet suggests otherwise.
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