The UK has now recorded more than 100,000 deaths in the pandemic. A tragic milestone. Perhaps most shocking is the rapid escalation of deaths. The country reached 50,000 Covid-related deaths on November 11th last year – that number doubled in just 76 days. Despite being the sixth richest country in the world, with an excellent (though underfunded) health service, the UK now has a higher daily death rate per million people than any other country. Boris Johnson will no doubt dismiss any criticism of his response to the crisis as the benefit of hindsight. But there have been a multitude of mistakes: being slow to lock down in the face of advice multiple times, failing to provide personal protective equipment for health and care workers, encouraging people back out with the Eat Out to Help Out scheme last summer and insisting on relaxing restrictions over Christmas, to name just a few.
The Prime Minister told the public in a Covid briefing last night that his government “truly did everything we could”. Challenged over how the country has reached this point, Johnson refused to discuss the reasons the death toll is so high. Chief medical officer Chris Whitty had a grim message for us: “We are going to see quite a lot more deaths over the next few weeks.” Speaking to BBC Newsnight after the Prime Minister’s appearance, SAGE member Calum Semple attributed the death toll to “decades of under-investment in the NHS” and warned that we could be looking at a further 40,000 to 50,000 lives lost in the coming months.
Keir Starmer has been keen not to politicise the 100,162 deaths. He urged people not to “become numb to these numbers or treat them as just statistics” and added: “For now we must remember those that we have lost and be vigilant in the national effort to stay at home, protect our NHS and vaccinate Britain.” His Labour colleagues have been more willing to lay blame on the government. Rachel Reeves told Sky News last night that “on a number of occasions the government should have acted sooner to put in place the measures that were needed to protect those lives”. Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth compared the UK response to that of other countries this morning, highlighting in particular poor sick pay and isolation support, and told viewers: “I just don’t accept the government did everything they could during the pandemic.”
Thoughts will also be on Holocaust Memorial Day today, which will be marked online this year due to the pandemic. As genocides and persecution continue to take place across the world, with attention turned in particular to treatment of the Uighurs in China at the moment, it is more importan than ever that we remember HMD. The Lords will mark the day by debating how Holocaust education in schools can be improved to promote tolerance and combat racism. Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock will face questions from MPs as he gives a Covid update to parliament and Home Secretary Priti Patel is back in the Commons to give a statement on measures at the border. Starmer will no doubt use Prime Minister’s Questions to focus on the Covid death toll – keep your eyes peeled for our review. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.