Government 'ignored pandemic recommendations', claims Sir Ed Davey

16 July 2020, 21:58 | Updated: 17 July 2020, 10:46

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The Conservative Government "did not follow" pandemic recommendations, co-leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey has claimed.

Speaking with LBC's Iain Dale as part of his Lib Dem leadership bid, the acting co-leader asked why Government ministers were not better prepared for the coronavirus pandemic.

He accused Boris Johnson and other Cabinet ministers of failing to implement the recommendations of the 2016 Cygnus exercise - a simulation carried out by NHS England in 2016 to establish the impact of a pandemic on the UK.

"The big decisions on how we deal with something like this pandemic are at the beginning, and indeed before the beginning in the lead up to it," he said.

"So one of the big questions on the coronavirus inquiry is 'why weren't we better prepared?'

"In 2016, there was the Cygnus exercise - a simulation of a pandemic - it reported, not in public unfortunately, a whole set of recommendations and the Government didn't follow them."

He claimed the country would have been "in a much better place" had they followed those recommendations which, he said, would have negated problems with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies and ensured more critical care beds and critical care staff were available from the start.

Read more: Leicester's local lockdown to be partially relaxed, Health Secretary announces

During Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Sir Ed called on Mr Johnson to commit to an immediate public inquiry into the Government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

He told Iain an immediate inquiry would "start looking at these issues and it can start looking at them now," adding that the country "needs this inquiry... as soon as possible."

When quizzed on why an inquiry was needed while the pandemic was still ongoing, he suggested such an investigation would not pull important people off the frontline.

"First of all, the people who would be involved in that inquiry aren't the ones who are really in the frontline combating coronavirus and helping patients who are suffering," he said.

"They are a small number of politicians and officials, so I think Boris Johnson's arguments against an immediate inquiry are completely wrong.

"Moreover, we've got to learn the lessons fast. Other countries have already set up inquiries and managed to do it and they've got quite tight timetables because they want to make sure they do learn the lessons and they do learn from the mistakes as quickly as possible because there could be a second wave."

Read more: UK coronavirus outcome 'has not been good', Government's chief scientific adviser says

Sir Ed Davey accused the Government of ignoring the recommendations of a 2016 pandemic simulation
Sir Ed Davey accused the Government of ignoring the recommendations of a 2016 pandemic simulation. Picture: LBC

However, he said he "welcomed" the fact the prime minister committed to an inquiry in principle despite being "surprised" by the promise.

When pressed on who should be blamed for any mishandling of the pandemic, Sir Ed said the inquiry should at first establish the facts and compare the UK with other countries.

Then, he said, it would look to learn lessons from the pandemic, such as how to better prepare the economy in the future, and then it can look into the blame.

"Anybody who was involved in this needs to be held to account," he added.

"I personally think Government ministers are going to be the ones who have got to answer the most questions because they ignored the advice of the 2016 pandemic simulation."

Iain Dale will also be speaking with fellow Lib Dem leadership contender Layla Moran on Tuesday and will host a debate between the pair on Sunday 2 August.

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