AN OPEN LETTER TO VIRGINIA CROSBIE
Dear Virginia Crosbie,
We recognise that decision-making can be very difficult in a rapidly evolving crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, we feel that some of the actions or inactions of the UK Government have been puzzling, and that, in addition, greater clarity is needed on the way forward. We assume that, in your position as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, you are well placed to cast light on these issues. There is little doubt that your constituents would welcome this. Our principal questions at this stage are:
1. Why were emergency stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) allowed to dwindle severely and to go out of date, even though (a) viral pandemics have consistently been identified as the number one threat to the UK and (b) Exercise Cygnus, conducted in 2016 (involving all major government departments, the NHS and local authorities across Britain), showed huge holes in Britain’s Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response plan?
2. Why did the UK Government not respond more promptly to avert shortages of tests, masks, gowns and gloves, and why did they choose not to participate in the EU’s procurement scheme to bulk buy PPE?
3. Are the shortages of PPE in the UK in fact related to the very low increases in health spending from 2010 onwards, as compared with the preceding decade?
4. Why did Boris Johnson wait until 2 March to attend a Cobra meeting when the World Health Organisation had declared the coronavirus a global emergency on 30 January and the catastrophic spread of the virus in northern Italy had become clear on 22 February?
5. Why did the UK Government abandon contact tracing and embark on the complacent herd immunity strategy, which would have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and had to be abandoned 11 days later — another 11 wasted days?
6. Why did the UK Government choose not to replicate policies that were proving successful even at an early stage in other countries? (An example is South Korea, where a policy of “test, trace, contain”, without lockdown, has almost eradicated new cases despite the fact that the original outbreak in that country was severe.)
7. Is it true that training to prepare key workers for a pandemic had been put on hold for two years while contingency planning was diverted to deal with a possible no-deal Brexit?
8. Why were restrictions not placed on entry into the UK at major airports at an early stage (bearing in mind that ca. 190,000 people flew into the UK from Wuhan and other high-risk Chinese cities between January and March) and why are such restrictions still not being imposed?
9. How do you see the “four nations approach” to the crisis evolving, given the reluctance of the UK Government to publish an exit strategy, in contrast to the Welsh and Scottish Governments’ willingness to do so?
10. Why is the membership of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) not being disclosed and why are minutes from SAGE meetings not being released?
11. Why were the potential impacts on the residents and staff in care homes not given a higher priority at an early stage?
In your role as our Member of Parliament and as PPS to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, I hope you are in a position to clarify your Government’s actions.
We look forward to your response.
Chair, Ynys Môn Constituency Labour Party, on behalf of Ynys Môn CLP Executive Committee