In Brief

Ministers flounder in face of Panorama accusations

BBC documentary showed the government failed to stockpile crucial PPE

Cabinet ministers have faced fiery live interviews following the BBC documentary that revealed government failings on the coronavirus. 

NHS workers say their lives are being put at risk because the government failed to buy crucial personal protective equipment (PPE) to cope with a pandemic.

Panorama revealed there were no gowns, visors, swabs or body bags in the government's pandemic stockpile when Covid-19 reached the UK.

This was despite the fact that, as far back as last June, the government was advised by its expert committee on pandemics to purchase gowns.

The documentary also revealed how ministers counted every glove individually instead of in pairs so they could claim they had delivered one billion pieces of PPE to frontline NHS staff. 

The one billion claim lists as PPE millions of cleaning products, waste bags, detergents and paper towels.

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The documentary also exposed how, in mid-March, the government downgraded Covid-19 from the category that requires a very high level of PPE, legally, for health workers.

On Good Morning Britain, Piers Morgan quizzed Home Office minister Victoria Atkins about the downgrading. The minister replied: “We have been following scientific advice on this absolutely throughout. We have been absolutely clear.”

As Morgan continued to grill Atkins on the question, she appeared to laugh. This prompted the host to say: “Well you can laugh - I don’t know why you all keep laughing when I talk about this. It’s not funny.”

He also asked the minister whether she heard of Exercise Cygnus, a three-day government simulation conducted in 2016, which concluded that the UK was “critically” underprepared for a deadly pandemic.

After some probing, she admitted she was not aware of the exercise. Morgan said that he was “staggered” that the “clueless” minister hadn’t heard of it.

Later, the son of a doctor who died of coronavirus after warning Boris Johnson about a lack of PPE confronted the health secretary, Matt Hancock, asking if he regrets not taking his father’s concerns seriously enough.

On LBC, Intisar Chowdhury, the 18-year-old son of Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, a consultant urologist at Homerton hospital in east London, said: “Do you regret not taking my dad’s concerns, my 11-year-old sister’s concerns seriously enough for my dad that we’ve all lost?”

Hancock insisted he was “really sorry” about Chowdhury’s death and claimed the government “took very, very seriously” what he said. Later in the interview, he accepted a £100 bet from host Nick Ferrari that he can deliver 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by 1 May.

Responding to the Panorama documentary, a government spokesperson said: “This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided at all times by the best scientific advice.”

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