Jacob Rees-Mogg is here repeating a boast made by Boris Johnson in the House of Commons six days earlier. It is tragically easy to show that Johnson’s self-serving claim to have “got the big calls right” is self-serving and false.
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 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.”
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 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 on 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."
There is abundant scientific testimony to the effect that many lives could have been saved if the Johnson government had acted differently. With this statement by Rees-Mogg a pattern is starting to emerge: ministers repeatedly making the false claim that Boris Johnson “got all the big decisions right”
We approached Jacob Rees-Mogg’s parliamentary office and the Cabinet Office to give him a chance to comment, but received no response.