Damning government report slams Boris Johnson’s ‘public health failure’ in the face of COVID
Of the more than 4.8 million people worldwide who have reportedly died from COVID-19, at least 138,300 of those deaths — according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore — have been in the United Kingdom. One of the COVID-19 survivors in the U.K. is Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose response to the pandemic is examined in a House of Commons report issued this week. And according to the House of Commons' Health and Social Care Committee, the United Kingdom's death toll from COVID-19 would have been lower had the Johnson government been quicker to embrace social distancing measures.
Journalist Jamie Ross, reporting in the Daily Beast, explains, "The report, published on Tuesday, states that if Johnson's government had introduced a lockdown just one week earlier than it did, Britain's death toll could have been slashed in half. However, the lawmakers concluded that a dangerous level of 'groupthink' in the top level of government and its advisers got in the way of decisive action."
The report is what Americans would describe as "bipartisan," as it comes from members of the Conservative Party (the Tories) as well as the Labour Party. Johnson is a Tory, but unlike so many members of the United States' Republican Party, he isn't a far-right extremist. The Conservative British prime minister, in fact, seemed delighted after President Joe Biden defeated Trump in 2020 and stressed that he was anxious to work with the new commander in chief.
The fact that Conservatives were part of the House of Commons report doesn't make it any less critical of the Johnson government. The MPs state that the Johnson government's initial COVID-19 measures "rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced." According to the MPs, "This happened despite the U.K. counting on some of the best expertise available anywhere in the world."
Addressing the fact that the Johnson government was initially slow to implement social distancing measures, the report stresses, "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."
But Stephen Barclay, the Conservative who serves as minister of the U.K. Cabinet Office, believes the report is unfair — arguing that Johnson and his allies were responding to a new disease. The virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, was first reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
The 49-year-old Barclay told Sky News, "It was an unprecedented pandemic. We were learning about it as we went through, and of course, with hindsight, there's things we know about it now that we didn't know at the time."
Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative MP who chairs the Health and Social Care Committee and served as U.K. health secretary from 2012-2018, told ITV, "The prime minister is, of course, ultimately responsible, but some of the advice that he got was also wrong."
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