“On each occasion they took the best possible scientific and medical advice, they took their responsibilities extremely seriously."

Robert Jenrick, Today Programme

January 27, 2021

Facts

The Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, defended the government’s handling of Coronavirus. The UK death toll had reached 100,000 the day before.

He said to Martha Kearney: “I was in many of those meetings with the Prime Minister and the health secretary and members of the cabinet and I can give you this assurance, that on each occasion they took the best possible scientific and medical advice, they took their responsibilities extremely seriously."

On many occasions the government did not follow the science, or followed it so late as to render it almost valueless.

For example, the government has been widely criticised for its slow response to lockdown, which was introduced more than 53 days after the initial outbreak.

Helen Ward, Professor of Public Health at Imperial College London said, in reference to the first lockdown: 

“Neither the advice nor the science were followed that week. My colleagues, led by Neil Ferguson, published a report on 16 March estimating that without strong suppression, 250,000 people could die in the UK. The government responded that day with a recommendation for social distancing, avoiding pubs and working from home if possible. But there was still no enforcement, and it was left up to individuals and employers to decide what to do. 

Many people were willing but unable to comply as we showed in a report on 20 March. It was only on March 23 that a more stringent lockdown and economic support was announced.” 

The government was urged to impose a full lockdown by SAGE on 16 March 2020, but they delayed imposing a lockdown for another week.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a former government scientific adviser, said that 20,000 lives could have been saved if lockdown had been introduced just one week earlier. Cheltenham Festival was also allowed to continue when other countries had already introduced strict lockdown measures. In March last year, at the time that England’s lockdown was introduced, the Irish Republic had already shut down its schools despite not being as far along in the pandemic.

Countries which locked down earlier had lower peaks than the UK

In addition, in December, SAGE advised the government not to reopen schools. Minutes from a meeting on 22 December revealed that SAGE told the PM that it was “highly unlikely” that allowing schools to stay open would keep the R rate below 1, following the emergence of a new variant in the UK. And yet, Johnson ignored the advice and insisted that he had “no doubt” that schools were “safe”. Johnson proceeded to allow schools to reopen for one day, before shutting them again.

Verdict

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick faced a problem: obliged to defend Boris Johnson’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, he may have felt that loyalty to his leader gave him little choice but to make a grossly misleading statement about the conduct of the government to which he belonged. 

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