Jeremy Hunt: ‘The UK should have locked down earlier in covid pandemic and Boris Johnson is ultimately responsible’

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the UK should have locked down earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic – and that Boris Johnson was “ultimately responsible” for the failure to do so.

Tuesday, 12th October 2021, 10:14 am
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said UK should have locked down earlier.

It comes amid a damning report from MPs which says the UK’s failure to do more to stop coronavirus spreading early on was one of the worst ever public health failures.

The reports says serious errors and delays at the hands of the UK Government and scientific advisers cost lives during the pandemic.

Tory MP Hunt, who chairs the Health and Social Care Committee, has admitted he was part of the “groupthink” that focused too much on flu and failed to adequately plan for a pandemic.

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Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme, he said the UK should have gone into shutdown faster than it did, adding that “the Prime Minister is of course ultimately responsible, but some of the advice that he got was also wrong”.

Mr Hunt added: “There was a groupthink that the way you tackle a pandemic should be similar to a flu pandemic, I was part of that groupthink too when I was health secretary.

“In fact, you know, during that period, an American university said we were the second-best prepared country in the world. We know that clearly wasn’t the case.”

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Serious errors and delays led to Covid-19 deaths, MPs say

Questioned on the impact of the Prime Minister’s personality early on in the pandemic, and whether Mr Johnson did not want to shut down the nation in case it was “unpopular”, Mr Hunt said that “every prime minister’s personality matters but in this particular case, on those particular decisions, he was following the scientific advice, and the question we have to ask is why across the whole of the system in those early months, everyone was advising the wrong approach?”

Hunt said that when images of the pandemic in Italy hit TV screens in the UK, the focus was on hospitals rather than other places like care homes.

He said: “The focus of attention, as so often happened in my time as well when I was health secretary, became what was happening in hospital wards, and we didn’t have that bigger picture as to the whole system, and that’s what we urgently need to put right which is why our strong recommendation… is that we need a 10-year plan for the social care sector, a big increase in funding for the social care sector, just as we had for the NHS going back to 2018.”

He said that “in the context where there were things that we didn’t know, it took us too long to get to the right approach”.

Referencing the MPs’ report on the pandemic response, he said: “We say this was like a football match with two very different halves, and yes there were those very serious errors that… led to many tragedies.

“But in the second half of the match, we have the vaccine programme which was, we say, the most effective initiative in the history of British science and public administration, we had the discovery of treatments like dexamethasone in the UK which saved a million lives worldwide, we had that extraordinary response in the NHS which saw everyone who needed a ventilator and an intensive care bed, got one.”

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