Labor leader Keir Starmer warns today that plans to lift nearly all Covid-19 restrictions on June 21 are at risk due to serial incompetence and “civil war” within Boris Johnson’s government.
In his strongest attack for months on the prime minister’s handling of the pandemic, Starmer says the huge death toll in the second wave of cases last fall, in which more than 80,000 lives were lost, was “avoidable and unforgivable “and the result of not learning the lessons of the early stages of the crisis.
Writing in the Observer After a week in which former aide to the prime minister, Dominic Cummings, said Johnson was in no condition to lead the country and had delayed shutdowns with fatal results last year, Starmer argues that the inability to fix the tracking of Self-isolating contacts and support systems, and the lack of adequate border controls to prevent the spread of the Indian variant, all amounted to serious and inexcusable personal failures of leadership.
As scientists warn today of the dangers of easing the blockade too soon, Starmer says the level of incompetence and infighting within the government casts doubt on whether the release of the “big bang” on June 21 will happen.
“In the first wave we faced an unprecedented crisis. Decision-making was certainly difficult. Errors were inevitable. And the British public understands it, ”he writes. “But by the summer, we knew a lot more about the virus. The prime minister was warned to prepare for a second wave. He did not do it. And more than twice as many people died in the second wave as in the first. That was avoidable and unforgivable.
“The failure to fix contact tracking and self-isolation support? Avoidable. The weak border policy that re-imported the virus? Avoidable. Closing delays – not once, not twice, but three times? Avoidable.
“That was a leadership failure. Not making the tough decisions necessary to keep people safe. That failure belongs to the prime minister. It goes to the heart of your character and aptitude for the job. As the second wave grew, his refusal to follow advice or acknowledge past mistakes had devastating consequences. “
He adds: “We all want to unblock June 21, but the biggest threat is the incompetence of the government. With variant cases doubling in a week and scientists express concern, Johnson and his ministers should relentlessly focus on reducing infections. Instead, they are once again distracted by melodrama, civil war, and covering their backs. “
On Friday, Britain recorded more than 4,000 coronavirus cases for the first time since the end of March, as the weekly total increased by 24%. Almost three-quarters of the new cases were the variant first detected in India.
Ministers are now examining options for a more limited reopening as they wait for more data and try to speed up the vaccine program.
Professor Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh said: “It is clear that we are at the foot of an increase in cases. The question is how steep the slope is and how high its peak will be. In other words, will it threaten the NHS? We don’t know yet, but we should know the answer in a week or so. “
Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol, said that if by the end of next week there were 6,000 cases of Covid and a week after that there were 12,000, then the alarm bells would start ringing. “We will have to think twice before lifting the restrictions because it will become clear that we will be on the back of a rapidly increasing wave of infections,” Finn said.
However, scientists say Britain’s successful vaccine program could prevent the rapid increase in cases from translating into large numbers of hospitalizations. “The launch of the vaccine is going very well,” added Woolhouse. “However, it is now imperative that we go even faster.”
Finn added: “There is only three weeks until June 21, and if we find hospitalizations soaring, we will have to think very fast, or face another lockdown this summer.”
An Opinium poll for the Observer found that 43% of people now support the postponement of the June 21 lockdown easing, which many Tory MPs are desperate to maintain. This compares with 34% who think the easing should go ahead as planned. One in 10 goes back by bringing the date forward.
Overall, two-thirds (66%) of the public believe the government acted too slowly in responding to Covid, compared to 28% who believe it acted quickly enough. Opinion differs at different stages of the crisis. 69% think ministers did not act fast enough with the first lockdown last March, 62% think they were too slow with the second lockdown in fall, while 67% thought stocks were too slow by Christmas.
Despite concerns about the June release, there is still strong support for the government’s handling of the vaccine program, with 71% of the public still approving the supply and delivery of the vaccine, compared to just the 9% disapprove.
After Cummings offered MPs evidence last week, the Conservatives’ lead over Labor fell to six points from 13 the previous week, according to Opinium. The Conservatives are at 42% (two points down), while Labor is up five at 36%.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism