UK could have been 'better prepared' for coronavirus pandemic, former head of civil service Mark Sedwill suggests

Sophia Sleigh
·2-min read
Boris Johnson shakes hands with Mark Sedwill following his appointment as Prime Minister: REUTERS
Boris Johnson shakes hands with Mark Sedwill following his appointment as Prime Minister: REUTERS

The UK could have been “better prepared” for the coronavirus pandemic, the former head of the civil service has suggested.

In a candid interview, Mark Sedwill said the UK did not have the “exact measures” in place to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak.

He also said Dominic Cummings' infamous lockdown trip was a “mistake” that “clearly undermined” the government’s approach.

Lord Sedwill, who left his job last month, told the BBC: “Although we had exercised and prepared for pandemic threats, we didn't have in place the exact measures, and we hadn't rehearsed the exact measures for the challenge Covid-19 presented.

“I think there is a genuine question about whether we could have been better prepared in the first place and that is obviously a very legitimate challenge.”

However, Lord Sedwill, who contracted the virus himself, said he was “really proud of a great deal that we did”, including setting up the Nightingale Hospitals.

In May, Mr Johnson’s chief adviser Mr Cummings drove to County Durham after his wife developed Covid-19 symptoms.

The Prime Minister's chief adviser Dominic Cummings (AP)
The Prime Minister's chief adviser Dominic Cummings (AP)

Lord Sedwill said the saga was “clearly a difficult moment for the government" and added: “It was a mistake - whether everyone should quit every time they make a mistake, I don't think is right.

“But it clearly undermined the government's coherent narrative about people following the rules.”

Lord Sedwill also uniquely held the role of National Security Adviser while also serving as Cabinet Secretary - which meant he worked closely with the security and intelligence agencies.

The senior civil servant stepped down amid reports of tension with members of the Prime Minister’s team.

He has been replaced by Prince William’s former private secretary Simon Case as part of a shake-up by the Prime Minister and Mr Cummings.

During the interview, Lord Sedwill also spoke about Donald Trump and said that while US politics is “pretty volatile” the UK-US relationship is “stable”.

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