A furious blame game erupted today as a Cabinet minister claimed government coronavirus blunders on testing and care homes were down to ‘wrong’ science advice.
Therese Coffey insisted the government had just been following the guidance from experts as she fended off damning criticism from MPs over ‘inadequate’ testing.
The Science and Technology Committee found hospital staff, care home workers and residents were put at risk because of a lack of capacity for screening ‘when the spread of the virus was at its most rampant’.
Routine testing for those with symptoms was abandoned on March 12, when the government shifted to its ‘delay’ phase, with checks reserved for hospital patients and health staff.
But the cross-party MPs said the failure to ramp up testing for the disease was the ‘most consequential’ error in the crisis, and crippled efforts to trace, track and isolate Britons with the disease.
Anger is also rising on the Tory backbenches, with one MP likening the response to the famous Morecambe and Wise comedy sketch where composer Andre Previn tells Eric he is ‘playing all the wrong notes’ in a piano piece, and he responds that he is ‘playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order’.
Ms Coffey appeared to pass the buck again in a round of interviews this morning. Pushed on whether the government had made mistakes, she told Sky News that ministers could ‘only make judgements and decisions based on the information and advice that we have at the time’. ‘If the science advice at the time was wrong I am not surprised people think we made the wrong decision,’ she said.
The extraordinary comment comes after the incoming president of the Royal Society, Sir Adrian Smith, warned politicians against putting blame on to scientists.
The ability to detect and crack down on cases is seen as crucial to getting the economy up and running, with unions warning workplaces and schools cannot be safe until the regime is in place.
The committee hit out at Public Health England for the ‘pivotal decision’ to shun smaller labs and failure to make a ‘rigorous assessment’ of countries such as South Korea and Germany that had successfully ramped up testing.
But PHE chief Duncan Selbie shot back that it was ‘not responsible’ for the testing strategy, which ‘has been led by the Department of Health and Social Care’.
He insisted ‘any testing facility with the right technology and containment’ could have carried out checks after security restrictions were lowered on March 3.
GMB’s Piers Morgan also berated Ms Coffey for mistakenly claiming that 100,000 people had been tested on a ‘handful’ of days. In fact, while the government says it has hit the 100,000 tests a day target, the number of people checked is lower as many need to be done more than once for clinical reasons.
In another tumultuous day in the coronavirus crisis:
More than 44,000 people have now been killed by COVID-19 in the UK, devastating statistics confirmed today. And more than 11,000 victims were care home residents in England and Wales;
Elderly hospital patients who had coronavirus symptoms were discharged into care homes without being tested despite warnings from around the world the crisis could grip the sector, industry bosses told MPs today;
UK unemployment claims soared by more than 69 per cent in April after the coronavirus lockdown gripped the labour market, official figures revealed;
Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has called on Boris Johnson to start getting the economy working again and to reconsider the two-metre social distancing rule;
US President Donald Trump’s has been criticised for revealing he is taking a malaria drug to protect against coronavirus;
Large businesses will now be able to receive up to £200 million from the government’s loan scheme, which previously had a maximum pay-out of £50 million;
Fresh questions have been raised about whether the government’s track and trace system will be in place for June after the NHSX app was delayed, and less than a quarter of IT experts think it will be effective;
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