British PM Johnson and Health Minister Hancock reject allegations by former top adviser Dominic Cummings that the government's botched response led to tens of thousands of needless Covid-19 deaths.
Britain's health minister has defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic after a former top government aide alleged the government’s botched response had led to tens of thousands of needless deaths.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock hit back after Dominic Cummings singled him out for criticism in an excoriating attack on the government.
In testimony to lawmakers on Wednesday, Cummings accused Hancock of lying to the public and said he "should have been fired" for mistakes including testing failures that saw patients with the virus discharged from hospitals to nursing homes.
Thousands of people died with Covid-19 in British care homes in the first months of the outbreak.
Hancock said "the unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true."
"I have been straight with people in public and in private throughout," he told legislators in the House of Commons. "Every day since I began working on the response to this pandemic last January, I've got up each morning and asked: ‘What must I do to protect life?"
Johnson 'unfit for the job'
Cummings, who left his job as Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top adviser in November, claimed the government’s slow and chaotic initial response, and Johnson’s failure to learn from mistakes, meant that tens of thousands of people had died unnecessarily.
He said Johnson was "unfit for the job" of prime minister.
Opposition Labour Party health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth said whether or not Cummings' allegations were true, the government had questions to answer.
"These allegations from Cummings are either true, and if so the secretary of state (Hancock) potentially stands in breach of the ministerial code … or they are false and the prime minister brought a fantasist and a liar into the heart of Downing Street," he said.
READ MORE: Latest updates on Covid-19
PM Johnson disagrees
Also on Thursday, Johnson said he disagreed with his former aide Cummings' claim that tens of thousands of people died unnecessarily because of the government's inaction on Covid-19.
Asked if he agreed with Cummings' allegation, Johnson said: "No, I don't think so, but of course this has been an incredibly difficult series of decisions, none of which we've taken lightly."
"We've been governed by a determination to protect life to save life, to ensure that our NHS is not overwhelmed."
During a seven hour testimony to parliament Cummings made a series of allegations over Johnson's handling of the pandemic and said the prime minister had been unfit to lead the country.
Asked about that, Johnson said: "Some of the commentary I've heard doesn't bear any relation to reality and what people want us to get on with is delivering the road map, and trying cautiously, to take our country forward through what has been one of the most difficult periods that I think anybody can remember post war."
Speaking about current plans to remove lockdown restrictions on June 21 – a fourth and final step on the government's roadmap out of lockdown – Johnson said that cases of the virus were increasing, including those of a variant first identified in India.
"We take decisions as fast as we can but we have to weigh the data," he said.
"We're pretty satisfied that the stages, the steps, we've taken so far on the roadmap have been right ... I'm afraid we just have to wait a little bit longer to see what's happening post step three."
More than 50 million vaccine doses have been given to adults in England.— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) May 22, 2021
This is a huge milestone in the largest NHS vaccination programme in history, and a fantastic team effort that has saved thousands of lives.
Play your part and come forward for your doses when called.
128,000 Covid deaths
The UK has recorded almost 128,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe, and experienced one of the world’s deepest recessions in 2020 as three successive lockdowns hobbled the economy.
A mass vaccination campaign that started in December has brought infections and fatalities down sharply, though Britain is now reckoning with a more transmissible new strain of the virus first identified in India. It is spreading across the country and scientists expect it to become the dominant variant in Britain, but they say existing vaccines appear to work against it.
The government says it will begin an independent public inquiry into its handling of the pandemic within the next year. Opposition politicians, and families who have lost loved ones to Covid-19, want it to start sooner.