UK

All-Ireland Covid-19 strategy needed after British government `complacency that will cost lives'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government are accused of being `totally focused on other issues such as Brexit, and the celebration of us emerging from Europe'. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government are accused of being `totally focused on other issues such as Brexit, and the celebration of us emerging from Europe'. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

THE British government has been accused of "complacency that will cost lives" after a newspaper investigation found the UK lost "a crucial five weeks in the fight to tackle the dangerous threat of coronavirus".

Government whistleblowers, scientists and emergency planners alleged in a Sunday Times report the government missed a series of opportunities to lessen the impact of the pandemic in February and March.

It detailed how prime minister Boris Johnson missed five of the government's key COBRA meetings about the escalating Covid-19 crisis, with "little progress" in obtaining emergency supplies of masks and gowns in February, with the UK insteadd sending 279,000 PPE items to China.

There are also claims recommendations following a 2016 rehearsal for a pandemic to address a lack of PPE and intensive care ventilators were never followed because preparations for a no-deal Brexit "sucked all the blood out of pandemic planning".

It reported a British Healthcare Trades Association offer in February to help supply PPE was only accepted on April 1.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the slow response "underscores the need for a bespoke island-wide strategy" which is "not a sectarian political issue".

"It isn't a matter of scoring points, it's about saving lives.

"The SDLP is committed to constructively working with all parties in the Executive as well as the British and Irish Governments to manage our response to COVID-19 and save as many lives as possible.

"That is not a blank cheque for anyone to operate free from scrutiny when the stakes are so high. There is simply no margin for error."

Professor Sir David King, chief scientific adviser under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, said he cannot recall a Cobra meeting which was not attended by the prime minister of the time.

Michael Gove, minister for the Cabinet Office claimed yesterday "most Cobra meetings don't have the prime minister attending them".

However, Sir David told Sky News "government ministers had their eye off the ball".

"They were totally focused on other issues such as Brexit, and the celebration of us emerging from Europe.

"The Prime Minister had other things on his mind, and we're fully aware of this, but apparently he didn't attend five Cobra meetings on this issue.

"And when Michael Gove says 'but prime ministers don't attend all Cobra meetings', I cannot recall a Cobra meeting when it was called with Blair or Brown as prime minister when the prime minister wasn't in the chair."

People Before Profit assembly member accused the Conservative administration of "clinging onto the herd immunity strategy (while) they simultaneously failed to provide PPE, testing etc while the PM seemed disinterested at best".