Labour calls for Covid public inquiry to be held “as soon as possible”

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth has called for a public inquiry into the government response to the Covid pandemic to be held “as soon as possible” so that the UK can learn lessons and avoid repeating its mistakes in future.

In an interview with Sky News this afternoon, after the publication of a cross-party parliamentary committee report on the handling of the health crisis, the Labour frontbencher pointed out that the pandemic is not over.

“We’re not through this pandemic yet. The progress we have made is immense, we’re not where we were a year ago, obviously thankfully, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” the Shadow Health Secretary warned.

“But the government is not listening to scientific advice on ventilation, they’re not listening to scientific advice on decent sick pay, it took them a while to make a judgement around vaccinations for adolescents as well.

“So, there are still things the government could be doing now, which is actually why you need a public inquiry to start as soon as possible because we’ve got to learn lessons so mistakes like this aren’t made in the future.”

Ashworth stressed that a public inquiry to learn lessons from handling of the Covid health crisis is vital as the country is likely to see more infectious disease outbreaks due to climate change, biodiversity loss and “other global trends”.

Commenting on the report published today, which found that a “deliberate policy” not to lockdown or introduce social distancing early in the pandemic resulted in a higher death toll, he highlighted the actions of other governments across Europe.

“One of the points I was making at the time was why is it you’ve got Italy, France, Spain, Germany and so on going into forms of lockdown and enforced social distancing that we are not,” Ashworth said.

“I remember saying in the House of Commons why is it an Atletico Madrid fan can get on a flight in Spain, come to Liverpool and watch the fixture in Liverpool – but a Liverpool fan wouldn’t be able to go and watch the fixture in Madrid? Because Spain had locked down sooner than we had.

“So we were asking ministers about this and we were questioning their assertion that it was based on scientific advice, because we now know since the SAGE minutes have been published that there are things that the scientists advised that ministers didn’t do – like localised contact tracing, like decent sick pay, like a second lockdown, like ensuring ventilation support for public buildings.

“This mantra, ‘we’re following the science, following the science’, actually doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. There are many instances where they were not following the scientific advice.”

The report published today criticised the “gradual and incremental approach to introducing non-pharmaceutical interventions” in the early stages of the first wave of the pandemic and the decision not to introduce a lockdown until March 23rd, two months after SAGE first met.

“This slow and gradualist approach was not inadvertent, nor did it reflect bureaucratic delay or disagreement between ministers and their advisers,” it said.

“It was a deliberate policy – proposed by official scientific advisers and adopted by the governments of all of the nations of the UK. It is now clear that this was the wrong policy, and that it led to a higher initial death toll than would have resulted from a more emphatic early policy.”

The Shadow Health Secretary’s comments followed those of Keir Starmer earlier today. The Labour leader called on Boris Johnson to take responsibility for the failures identified in the report and apologise to bereaved families.

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