“At every key decision point the PM has been bitterly opposed by Keir Starmer. But time and again the PM has been vindicated.”

Lord Zac Goldsmith, Twitter

February 21, 2022

Facts

Lord Goldsmith suggested that Boris Johnson has been correct on Covid throughout the pandemic. In actual fact, Keir Starmer has repeatedly called for increased restrictions, and Johnson’s failure to impose them have led to higher death rates. 

For example, in October 2020, Keir Starmer called for a circuit breaker lockdown to curb rising cases of Coronavirus. Johnson ignored this advice. Starmer’s comments came after documents revealed government scientific advisers called for such action three weeks earlier. Scientists said that up to 100,000 deaths could have been prevented by Christmas if the two-week lockdown was imposed. r. 

It has also been proven time and time again that Johnson was too slow to act at the start of the pandemic. For example, his government introduced a lockdown 53 days after the initial outbreak. Cheltenham Festival was allowed to continue when other countries had already introduced strict lockdown measures. 

 There are different factors that contribute to nations’ individual caseloads and death tolls, but it seems clear that had the government locked down sooner, more lives would have been saved. 

Prof Neil Ferguson, who sat on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) during the early stages of the pandemic and told a House of Commons committee: “Had we introduced lockdown a week earlier we’d have reduced the final death toll by at least half”.

On the subject of testing, Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance suggested his colleagues at Public Health England had failed to increase testing as quickly as was needed to control the spread of the virus. Speaking on ITV’s weekly “Coronavirus Q&A” show, Vallance admitted the rollout of testing had been too slow and added that it needs to go beyond only testing NHS workers but “to look at outbreaks and isolate”, as has been successful in places like Germany and South Korea. 

At the same press conference three days later, Prof Yvonne Doyle, from Public Health England, was far more honest in her appraisal of how the response had been handled, saying, "undoubtedly we perhaps could have done things differently." 

A joint report published by The House of Commons Science and Technology and Health and Social Care Committees into the British government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic was published on 12th October 2021. It identified important errors, speaking of a  “a serious mistake to get to the point where community testing was stopped early in the pandemic. A country with a world-class expertise in data analysis should not have faced the biggest health crisis in a hundred years with virtually no data to analyse. This problem was compounded by a failure of national public bodies involved in the response to share such data as was available with each other, including between national and local government.” The report also said that “a full lockdown was inevitable and should have come sooner.” It added that “The slow, uncertain, and often chaotic performance of the test, trace and isolate system severely hampered the UK’s response to the pandemic.”

We sent Lord Goldsmith our analysis for comment. He refused.

Verdict

Zac Goldsmith’s claim that  “the PM has been vindicated” on his Covid-19 decisions was wrong. There is abundant scientific testimony to the effect that many lives could have been saved if the Johnson government had acted differently. Lord Goldsmith’s attempt to score political points from Boris Johnson’s handling of Covid borders on the macabre.

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