Sajid Javid admitted he hasn’t read a damning report by MPs on the government’s response to the pandemic.
Serious errors and delays at the hands of the government and scientific advisers cost lives during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the damning report.
The study, from the cross-party Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee, said the UK’s preparation for a pandemic was far too focused on flu, while ministers waited too long to push through lockdown measures in early 2020.
In a wide-ranging report, MPs said the UK’s pandemic planning was too “narrowly and inflexibly based on a flu model” that failed to learn the lessons from Sars, Mers and Ebola.
Former chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies told MPs there was “groupthink”, with infectious disease experts not believing that “Sars, or another Sars, would get from Asia to us”.
Once Covid-19 emerged in China, MPs said the UK policy was to take a “gradual and incremental approach” to interventions such as social distancing, isolation and lockdowns.
In their study, they said this was “a deliberate policy” proposed by scientists and adopted by UK governments, which has now been shown to be “wrong” and led to a higher death toll.
The MPs said the “decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them – rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”.
But Javid, the health secretary, told the BBC he hadn’t read the report, which was released on Tuesday.
He told the Today programme: “It is one report and I welcome the report. I haven’t had the opportunity to study every word of the report. I will study it properly this weekend.”
Asked about what mistakes the government had made during the pandemic, Javid insisted it is too early to know what lessons should be learned.
“I don’t think I am in a position yet to go back and look at every decision that was made,” he said.
Questioned whether he was wrong to argue for greater emphasis to be placed on the economy in the government’s response when he was a backbencher, the health secretary said: “No, I don’t, based on the information that I have had and also from what I know.
“I have been in this job for 100 days and was out of government when a lot of those crucial decisions were made. I was a humble backbencher.”