Better late than never or too little too late?
Boris Johnson has promised an independent inquiry into his government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, but has not said when this inquiry will take place.
Hardly surprising, as he will be uncomfortably aware that conclusions, when they come, are unlikely to be especially favourable.
The pandemic’s relentless and speedy progression across the globe meant world leaders and their ministers needed to listen, learn and act quickly. Some did; others dithered.
At the start of the year, after dire warnings from China and the WHO, the Prime Minister failed to attend an emergency Cobra meeting called to discuss the deadly new virus. As the situation worsened he would miss four more crisis meetings.
At the end of January his government declined to join a European scheme to source personal protective equipment, and by the end of February NHS bosses were warning of severe PPE shortages and the ‘nightmare’ situation facing the health service.
In early March, after scientists advised the public not to shake hands, Johnson told a Press conference how he visited a hospital where there were coronavirus patients and ‘shook hands with everybody.’
While France was banning large events and Ireland was cancelling St. Patrick’s Day parades, here the four-day Cheltenham racing festival, with 250,000 visitors, was allowed to go ahead. And with other European countries closing schools and moving towards lockdown, the government was still pursuing its policy of achieving ‘herd immunity,’ by allowing the virus to pass through the population. The government finally closed schools on March 20 and went into lockdown on March 23.
By the end of April, Britain had the third highest number of Covid-19 associated deaths in the world. Official figures put the number at more than 45,000. An Amnesty International report has revealed that more than 500 healthcare workers in the UK have lost their lives to the disease, a figure higher than any country in the world apart from Russia.
What our surveys show
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced in Parliament on July 14th that face coverings must be worn in shops – from July 24th. Opposition MPs and government critics responded that if masks were necessary, then surely they were necessary immediately rather than in ten days’ time.
The issue seems to highlight the fact that the government’s decision-making throughout the crisis has frequently been a case of better late than never, and at times, too little too late. A question of closing the stable door…?
Our survey figures show clearly that a large majority of us believe the government has failed in the protection and care of our health workers. The government comes off better on the question of whether or not it has mishandled the entire crisis, with 47% believing that it did, and another 18% saying they ‘don’t know.’ Disappointingly for Labour, only as many people believe they would have done as well as the Conservatives.