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View from Westminster: Incompetent decisions and terrible consequences of government’s ‘callous’ COVID response

On January 30 the World Health Organisation (WHO) described the Coronavirus as a global emergency, writes Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle…

It had already claimed thousands of lives in China and was spreading quickly to other countries with devastating consequences. Some governments acted quickly to protect their people, including in New Zealand and South Korea and are credited with swift, effective responses to the international alarm.

The virus reached the UK before WHO put out their alert but at that point ministers were still discussing ‘herd immunity’ and the Prime Minister personally dismissed a lockdown in February.

This initial callous response has allowed the virus to wreak havoc in so many lives across the country and speaks volumes about Johnson.

Sadly, we have seen over 65,000 more deaths this year than usual as the NHS has battled valiantly to cope under huge pressure.

Our local council has provided swift, urgent help to individuals, businesses and local charities shifting from routine activities to supplying food and maintaining telephone company for isolated people. The council also provided accommodation for rough sleepers to prevent the spread of the virus. Some areas of UK public services have been exemplary and deserve our thanks and praise as we still witness the damage the pandemic has caused and the continued threat to people’s health and our economy.

The government did not lockdown until 23rd March; three months after the WHO warning. Ministers may try to deny their slow, inadequate response, but the facts speak for themselves and an inquiry will no doubt want to probe other incompetent decisions which had terrible consequences. Like doctors and nurses not having PPE. Like hundreds of older people being forced into care homes where no one was tested only to see ministers later claim they ‘threw a protective ring around care homes’. A better analogy would be a death grip for the families who avoidably lost loved ones as a result. The government’s own figures suggest 30,000 additional people died in care.

Last week the health secretary claimed 500,000 people would be tested every day by October. Germany hit this target in April. But the UK has never reached the 100,000 daily tests set in May and I have zero confidence that the new target will be delivered.

The tracing app has been a disaster and leaves almost 80 per cent of the people known to have Covid uncontacted. Any inquiry must get to the bottom of this catalogue of failures. The boastful claims of being ‘world-beating’ have been despicable frankly. Nowhere else in the world has fared so badly but seen Ministers act with such braggadocio about their own inadequacy.

I’ve been doing everything I can in parliament to stand up for local people by shining a light on the government’s failings. My questions to ministers have revealed that a third of the two million people who submitted claims for Universal Credit at the start of the crisis actually got nothing. I’ve also been highlighting the government’s disastrous approach to bringing UK nationals back home after they were stranded abroad through my role on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I had to pressure ministers personally on behalf of over 50 local people to help them return to Southwark from sixteen different countries and even now some are still stranded. Foreign secretary Dominic Raab was quick to praise the government’s ‘unprecedented’ response, but the fact is Germany hired 30 times more charter flights than the UK.

The government must be more honest, especially with so many jobs on the line. Unemployment has risen dramatically in Southwark and thousands more jobs are propped up by schemes ending soon. Spin, deceit and false claims are no solution. We need to see protection for jobs and livelihoods in our community and nationally. Many people have already suffered greatly. We are not through this yet but further suffering is still avoidable.




  1. Neil Coyle … 26th May, 2020

    “I’ve been contacted by almost 200 people in the last two days appalled by Dominic Cummings’ disregard for the Government lockdown rules.”
    Had everyone taken the selfish, arrogant attitude of Boris Johnson’s closest advisor, the outcome would have been far worse.”

    So, BLM have certainly made things worse by scheduling their events during lockdown and by their attendees flaunting the health advice of PHE.

    You seem to know what you are talking about, Neil. What do you propose should be done?

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