Government ‘should've shown more compassion with funeral numbers’ early in pandemic, Robert Jenrick admits

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·3-min read
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2021/01/22: A man looks at his watch while standing next to a covid-19 prevention publicity campaign poster in London. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) as of January 15 there had been over 103,000 Covid-19 deaths in the UK. (Photo by Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A man stands next to a COVID-19 prevention publicity campaign poster in London. (Getty)

The government should’ve shown “greater care and compassion” when it came to funeral attendance at the start of the pandemic, a minister has admitted.

Speaking on the day after the figure for coronavirus deaths in the UK passed 100,000, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said that “when we look back” on the coronavirus pandemic he is “sure” there are “lessons to be learned”.

Highlighting the early restrictions on people attending funerals, Jenrick told BBC Breakfast: “I think one of the things that most affected me were the restrictions on people being able to go to funerals very early on in the pandemic.

“It was partly the responsibility of my department and we acted to change that so we can show greater care and compassion to people who are bereaved, we have to learn lessons, both within the response, and afterwards.”

Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick speaks to the media after visiting the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, which is acting as a Covid-19 vaccination centre. Picture date: Saturday January 23, 2021. (Photo by Jacob King/PA Images via Getty Images)
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick insisted the government 'took the right decisions at the right time'. (Getty)

Despite his admission on funeral numbers, Jenrick insists the government took the “right decisions at the right time” throughout the crisis.

He told Sky News: “We took the decisions that we could at the time on the basis of the information that was available to us.

Watch: 100,000 deaths ‘exhausts the thesaurus of misery’

“And we did everything that we could to protect people’s lives and help to weather the storm, and take the country through this very challenging period.

“There is no textbook as to how to respond to a pandemic like this, but we do believe that we took the right decisions at the right time.”

But shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the government’s response to the pandemic was “appalling”, adding: “I don’t accept they did everything they could.”

Ashworth said a “litany of errors” by the government led to the UK reaching 100,000 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, adding he would support a “national memorial” for the “shattered families left behind”.

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Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said: “I’m sorry to say it, I really am, but I just don’t believe that the government did do everything we could.”

Ashworth accepted “this is a completely difficult, extraordinary situation” but said “other countries are not dealing with these huge levels of deaths that we are” and that a lack of financial support has meant people are not able to quarantine when they have coronavirus.

Read more: What you can and can't do under current lockdown rules

He blamed the prime minister for being too lenient with coronavirus measures, adding: “He likes to deliver good news, he doesn’t like to disappoint people… but the reality is that a lot of the time you should just be straight with people.”

Home secretary Priti Patel will set out “further steps” to control the flow of people arriving into England in a Commons statement later on Wednesday.

SHIPLEY, WEST YORKSHIRE - MAY 26: The casket of Covid-19 victim Dennis Clapham, aged 62, is prepared to be transported to Nab Wood Crematorium on May 26, 2020 in Shipley, West Yorkshire. His sister Ann Clapham cared for him whilst he suffered from ill health at home. He later moved into a care home where he could get the extra help he needed. Dennis and Ann had planned his funeral arrangements two years ago. Guardian Funerals is a family-owned funeral service in Shipley, West Yorkshire, that, like many such providers, has confronted the unique challenges presented by Covid-19. There are new rules for how the deceased are handled and how family members can commemorate the deceased prior to burial or cremation -- restrictions that can make a tough situation even tougher. The home's director, Alison Barrington, is a third-generation undertaker who believes that the pastoral element of being a funeral director is as important to bereaved families as the professional undertaker services that they provide. Alison, who works alongside her husband Daniel and a small team, believes that people are failing to associate the graphs and figures describing the Covid-19 death toll with the human victims of the crisis and the devastating effect it has had on families across the world. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Funeral numbers were limited early on in the pandemic. (Getty)

She is expected to announce a limited plan forcing arrivals from COVID-19 hotspots to quarantine in hotels.

The move is designed to protect the country against new coronavirus variants arriving from overseas – but these are said to be softer than Patel had hoped, with The Times reporting she had pushed for a temporary closure of the UK’s borders but was overruled by the prime minister.

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown