Northumberland’s Labour Group has paid tribute to the staff and volunteers who are working hard to make the vaccination programme an outstanding success, but says illnesses and deaths could have been avoided had the government been better prepared.
Shadow cabinet member for public health, Liz Simpson said: “Despite a massive exercise carried out in 2016 to test preparedness for a pandemic of this sort, the government was not ready. They basically ignored the recommendations of the report.
“They were not taking the virus seriously at the beginning, with even the Prime Minister boasting that he was ‘shaking hands with people with coronavirus’ on a visit to a London hospital, only to succumb to it a few weeks later himself.
“Instead of taking a leaf out of the books of other countries which have handled this much better, the government locked down too late and spent time playing catch up to try and get on top of the virus.
“While the Chancellor’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme might have been done with the very best of intentions it caused infection rates to rise. This type of carelessness cost lives.
“Even now with quarantining it’s again too little too late. If the UK as an island can’t close its borders, then who can? The government failed in its duty to protect its citizens.
“We asked that teachers be offered Covid vaccinations in the half term holidays. To us it was an essential part of getting schools fully opened and it’s disappointing this didn’t happen.
“This country has had the highest number of deaths per head of population and the deepest recession. Countries which locked down hard are now almost fully recovered from the economic impact. For some reason we have a government that doesn’t want to listen or follow good practice and thinks it knows better than other countries. Clearly it doesn’t know better.
“We’re very pleased that the vaccination programme, led by the NHS and Northumberland County Council, is a success. It had to be after the perilous situation our own government put us in.
“We know how difficult another lockdown will be and we would much prefer that this one is the last one. If the government puts ordinary people front and centre then they should do the right thing but they need to be honest about what restrictions will need to remain.
“However, with 70 per cent of applications for financial support rejected nationally, it’s is no wonder that the infection rate is falling at slower rates in the most deprived communities.
“The priority has to be reopening schools, then the economy. The government must ensure schools can reopen in March and stay open whether that is by having rota systems, testing, or Nightingale classrooms.
“And the government needs to continue to support businesses – that’s why we have called for business rate holidays and VAT cuts to be extended and for Covid debts to be reviewed.
“This should all come alongside a plan for living with Covid-19 over the next few months up through to next winter – providing security and clarity for us all.”