UK leadership candidate Sunak attacks COVID lockdown response

UK leadership candidate Sunak attacks COVID lockdown response
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  • Former finance minister says drawbacks of lockdowns have been removed
  • Sunak says scientists were given too much influence
  • PM candidate says government tried to scare public

LONDON, Aug 25 (Reuters) – Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, one of two candidates vying to be Britain’s next prime minister, has criticized outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. , saying that it had been a mistake to “empower”. scientists and that the drawbacks of blockades were removed.

The ruling Conservative Party is choosing a new leader after Johnson was forced to resign when dozens of ministers resigned in protest over a series of scandals and mistakes. Party members are voting to choose either Sunak or Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who will take office next month.

Opinion polls show Sunak lagging behind in the race. Managing the pandemic has become a problem. Truss said this month that she would never again approve another lockdown and also said that as trade minister at the time, she was not involved in making key decisions about how to respond.

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Sunak said the government had been “wrong to scare people” about the coronavirus. He said officials in Johnson’s office barred him from discussing the “trades” of imposing coronavirus-related restrictions, such as the impact on missed medical appointments and lengthening waiting lists for NHS care. state health.

“The script was to never acknowledge them,” he told Spectator magazine. “The script was: ‘oh, there’s no compensation, because doing this for our health is good for the economy.'”

Sunak said scientists from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, the group that helped respond to the outbreak, received too much influence from ministers in making decisions such as the closure of schools and nurseries.

Sunak said that during the beginning of the pandemic, when scientists presented them with scenarios about what would happen if lockdowns were not imposed or extended, their requests for underlying models were ignored.

Sunak said it is unfair to blame officials because ministers are elected to make decisions.

“If you empower all these independent people, you’re screwed,” he said.

Sunak himself was hugely popular at the start of the pandemic because, as then finance minister, he launched a furlough scheme that kept many people on payrolls even when lockdowns meant they couldn’t work.


Asked why opinion polls showed the public was anxious about the country being in lockdown, Sunak said: “We help shape that: with the messages of fear.”

Sunak said it was wrong for the government to post posters showing patients on ventilators and claimed the Cabinet Office was “very upset” when it made a speech in September 2020 urging people to “live without fear”.

Britain under Johnson was slower than most of its European peers to shut down in early 2020. After suffering some of the highest death rates at the start of the pandemic, it later became one of the first major economies to reopen. .

When asked about Sunak’s comments, a government spokesman defended his record on COVID, saying the economy and children’s education were central to difficult decisions made during the pandemic.

Sunak, who resigned from the Johnson government last month, suggested schools could have stayed open during the pandemic. He said that during a meeting he tried to voice his opposition to closing the schools, saying he was “very excited about it.”

“There was a great silence afterwards,” he said. “It was the first time anyone had said it. He was so furious.”

The lockdown “could have been shorter” or had a “different” focus, he said.

A public inquiry looking at the government’s preparedness, as well as the public health and economic response to the pandemic, is expected to begin taking evidence next year.

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Reporting by Andrew MacAskill Editing by Kate Holton and Frances Kerry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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