Government slow coronavirus response ‘cost lives’, claims former chief scientific adviser

PUBLISHED: 15:04 15 April 2020 | UPDATED: 15:31 15 April 2020

David King said that the government's response, and the Tory austerity programme, has cost lives during the coronavirus outbreak. Photograph: Wikipedia/Climaterepair.

David King said that the government's response, and the Tory austerity programme, has cost lives during the coronavirus outbreak. Photograph: Wikipedia/Climaterepair.

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The government’s slow response to coronavirus has led to deaths, a former chief scientific adviser has said.

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The EU rejected Matt Hancock's claims that his department had participated in the bloc's PPE bulk-buy scheme. Photograph: Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street/PA Wire.The EU rejected Matt Hancock's claims that his department had participated in the bloc's PPE bulk-buy scheme. Photograph: Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street/PA Wire.

Professor Sir David King told LBC radio he did not know why it took so long to take action once the virus began to spread in China.

He said: “I’m very saddened by the predicament we’re in. Why we didn’t respond so much sooner once this epidemic broke out in China, I simply don’t know.

“And I say this because in 2006, we published a report on actions needed to deal with a pandemic, and in that report, we showed that if an outbreak occurred of any new virus of this kind anywhere in the world, within three months, due to air travel, it would be everywhere in the world.

“That of course is what has happened and it seems like we were unprepared and we didn’t take action.

“We didn’t manage this until too late and every day’s delay has resulted in further deaths in the United Kingdom.”

Sir David, who was chief scientific adviser from 2000 to 2007, also said he believes that austerity policies under the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition have affected the response to Covid-19.

“It goes right back to 2010 when the government came in with a very clear policy to reduce public spending across the board, including the National Health Service,” he said.

“I’m afraid these austerity measures did lead to the cutting back on the risk management programmes.


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“Clearly this also managed to cause problems with flooding across the UK. We were much better prepared for better spending with the Environment Agency on that and equally unprepared for pandemics.

“For me, this is very upsetting because we had set this preparation process in place back in 2006.”

Asked if austerity had cost lives, he said: “Absolutely, that is what I’m saying.”

On what the government needs to do next, Sir David said: “Until we get testing done on a very much wider scale, we’re not going to begin to manage this.”

He said there was a request from within the Department of Health in 2015 for a report into preparedness for a pandemic which was never published.

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