Coronavirus: Boris Johnson’s government urged to 'admit mistakes' over handling of pandemic

Prime minister Boris Johnson speaks at 10 Downing Street after being discharged from hospital in London. (Getty Images)

The government has been urged to admit to “mistakes” made during its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jill Rutter, programme director at the Institute for Government think tank, said Boris Johnson’s administration should “treat the public like grown-ups”.

Her comments followed a report in the Sunday Times which accused the government of dithering in its response to the coronavirus crisis and reported that the prime minister missed five key Cobra meetings.

On Monday, the Department of Health rejected several of the newspaper’s claims in a 2,000-word rebuttal.

But instead of spending time refuting reports, Rutter said the government would make a better use of its time by conceding it has made mistakes.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has repeatedly asserted that the UK was well-prepared for the pandemic.

On Sunday, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jenny Harries, used the government’s daily coronavirus briefing to controversially claim that the UK has been an “international exemplar in preparedness”, despite ongoing anger over a lack of COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers.

“This sort of defensiveness creates no hiding place for government,” said Rutter, in a blog post.

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“It would do much better if it treated the public like grown-ups, able to understand that this is very difficult and that mistakes will be made.

“It is much more convincing and reassuring for ministers to say that they will learn from mistakes, rather than refusing to acknowledge that any have been made.”

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She said the UK government could learn from French president Emmanuel Macron, who used a speech last week to admit his country was not prepared for the pandemic.

“The general line has been that everything is going as well as it could be, and the UK is – to quote the deputy chief medical officer – an ‘international exemplar’, and any criticism is out of bounds,” said Rutter.

Meanwhile, Professor Dame Angela McLean, deputy chief scientific adviser to the government, said on Monday it is an "interesting hypothesis" that Liverpool's Champions League match against Atletico Madrid may have spread coronavirus in the city.

More than 3,000 fans made the trip from the Spanish capital to Merseyside for the fixture on 11 March, despite their home city already being subject to partial lockdown.

She admitted it will be interesting to look at the scientific evidence and the Champions League last-16 second leg tie at Anfield down the line, but pointed out that, given the general policy at the time, going to a football match was not considered a "particularly large extra risk".

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