'We tried everything we could,' Jenrick tells LBC after UK passes 100,000 Covid deaths

27 January 2021, 08:37 | Updated: 27 January 2021, 09:26

By Maddie Goodfellow

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has told LBC that the government "took action at the right time" after the UK reached the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson told the UK he is "deeply sorry" for every life that has been lost to coronavirus in the UK as the country's death toll passed 100,000.

The UK also now has the highest death rate in the world.

Nick Ferrari questioned the housing minister on this, asking him: "Where did it all go so wrong?"

"The first thing to say is that behind that very grim statistic are 100,000 people's lives and their families and friends and the deepest condolences of all of us go out to them," Mr Jenrick said.

"We are, as the Prime Minister said last night, very sorry for every life that has been lost during this extraordinary year.

"The Prime Minister also said that we did everything that we could to make sure that we were taking the steps necessary with the information available to us at the time to protect people's lives."

Speaking at a Downing Street press briefing, Boris Johnson pledged to ensure those who had died would be remembered, and said "we will come together as a nation to remember everyone we lost and to honour the selfless heroism of all those on the front line who gave their lives to save others".

Mr Johnson said: "On this day I shall just really repeat that I am deeply sorry for every life that has been lost.

"Of course, as Prime Minister, I take full responsibility for everything the Government has done.

"What I can tell you is that we truly did everything we could and continue to do everything we can to minimise loss of life and to minimise suffering in what has been a very, very difficult stage and a very difficult crisis for our country.

"And we will continue to do that, just as every Government that is affected by this crisis around the world is continuing to do the same."

Mr Jenrick told Nick that "there's no textbook on how to manage this situation."

"I was in many of those meetings and can assure you that the Prime Minister listened carefully to the expert advisors," he stated.

"We tried to do everything, using all of the levers available to us at the time and the magnificent support of the NHS and social care, the armed forces, local councils and of course British science, which we've seen come to the rescue so strongly with the vaccine rollout.

"We tried to do everything we could to shield the country and help people through this difficult period.

"But undoubtedly when there is a time to reflect properly on what has happened there will be things that people will say the UK did very well at, and there will be things that with the benefit of hindsight we could have done differently.

"That is inevitable and will be the same for every country in the world."

On Tuesday, Sir Keir Starmer said the number of deaths was a "national tragedy", adding: "We must never become numb to these numbers or treat them as just statistics. Every death is a loved one, a friend, a neighbour, a partner or a colleague. It is an empty chair at the dinner table."

Pushed on the Labour leader's accusation that the government was "slow" and "behind the curve", Mr Jenrick said: "I don't think either of those two criticisms are easy ones to make."

Asked about the problems with accessing PPE at the start of the pandemic, Mr Jenrick said this was due to "an international clamour" to access it.

"With locking down, there is always going to be differences of opinion. But there is no easy or right time to do so. If you do so too soon, you risk serious damage to people's livelihoods.

"If you do so too late then you can risk the health service having challenges and people's lives being lost.

"These are very balanced judgements and I think the government made the right one on each occasion.

"I have seen the Prime Minister act very decisively, I have seen the government take those difficult decisions, but i don't for one moment claim that every response the government has made has been perfect."