COVID-19: ‘There will be things people will say we did extremely well’ – minister defends handling of pandemic

A minister has defended the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, telling Sky News that in the future “I suspect there will be things that people will say we did extremely well”.

Speaking the day after the UK exceeded 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said “there is no textbook as to how to respond to a pandemic like this”.

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But critics argue ministers have been slow to act at decisive points, as well as criticising the government on issues like the provision of protective equipment for health workers and the handling of care homes.

In his interview Mr Jenrick rejected such criticism, claiming the government had taken “decisive action” throughout.

He echoed comments from Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Tuesday’s Downing Street news conference, saying: “We did everything that we could to protect people’s lives and to help to weather the storm and take the country through this very challenging period.”

Asked if there were any regrets in government at aspects of its handling of the pandemic, Mr Jenrick replied: “Of course there are things which we could and would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight.”

He said the government was focusing on the vaccine rollout, adding: “The end is fortunately in sight and the UK is getting there somewhat faster than many other comparable countries.”

Mr Jenrick continued: “When there is more distance, when we are out of the pandemic, there will come a time when we should reflect on what happened, why the UK was impacted in the way that it was.

“Some of that will be the particular characteristics of the UK, our population, our population density, our openness and our economy. Others may well be the way in which we responded to certain challenges.

“I suspect there will be things that people will say we did extremely well at, and there’ll be things that people will say we should have done differently. The same no doubt could be said of any other country in the world.”

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The minister cited the UK’s vaccine programme, which has seen 6.8 million people given a first dose, as a successful aspect of the government’s pandemic response.

At the moment, the UK ranks fifth in the world for total number of COVID cases and deaths, according to John Hopkins University.

But Mr Jenrick said direct comparisons were “difficult to make at the present time”.

And he said that on some things “evidence has changed, opinion has changed”.

“That’s what happens in unprecedented situations, scientific opinion evolves and is refined,” the minister added.

“For example, on the wearing of masks, opinion did change. It became clearer that they did have benefits that were not perceived at the beginning of the pandemic.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News the pandemic has caused a “horrendous loss of life”.

“I just don’t accept that the government did everything they could,” he said.

Mr Ashworth added that other nations “have had a better response to the virus” and were “quicker to go into lockdowns”.

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