A Question Time panellist has slammed praise of Boris Johnson’s coronavirus response, labelling it ‘insulting’ to victims’ families.
Writer Aufa Hirsch was responding to a viewer’s question over the UK’s Covid-19 death rate when she said the government needed to be more transparent in its handling of disease, downplaying claims its response had been a ‘success’.
Joining cabinet minister George Eustice, Labour MP Nick Thomas-Symonds, businessman Juergen Maier, and NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson on the panel, she said that the government ‘must acknowledge’ its mistakes.
‘To hear our government congratulating itself on the way it’s handled this outbreak,’ she said, ‘is insulting to the people who continue to die every day.
‘What I would like to see is some honesty from the government acknowledging that this was not well handled and that mistakes had been made and to tell us clearly and transparently what they intend to do different.’
She added: ‘The government’s rhetoric is only losing further trust. Trust is important right now and until the government shows some honesty and integrity, I can’t see how we can even begin to move forward.’
Maier, a former Siemens UK chief executive, agreed that the government had not been ‘well prepared’. He said that Whitehall was managing the crisis ‘in the here and now’ which made containment ‘unbelievably difficult’.
He said: ‘What should have happened is that we should have spent much more time planning earlier on. We saw the signs from Italy and we knew we had to put testing capacity in place and we didn’t do that early enough or lockdown fast enough.’
The remarks came as government minister Eustice said it was ‘too early’ to draw comparisons with other countries over death rates.
He was challenged by host Fiona Bruce who said the government relied on tracking itself against other countries in earlier Downing Street briefings but only abandoned that approach when the country’s death toll became the highest in Europe.
Eustice reiterated the government had only used the data to ‘track’ its progress against others.