Boris Johnson has been accused of failing to learn lessons from the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, as the UK became the first country in Europe to reach the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19.
The Prime Minister, facing questions in Parliament from the leader of the opposition Labour party Sir Keir Starmer, insisted now was not the time to learn lessons but that the country needed to “work together” to keep coronavirus under control.
Starmer, who condemned the Conservative government’s handling of the crisis in schools and the country’s borders, said the PM “still hasn’t learned the lessons of last year”.
On Tuesday the UK became the fifth country in the world to surpass 100,000 deaths due to COVID-19, after the US, Brazil, India and Mexico.
In a televised statement that evening Johnson said he took “full responsibility for everything that the government has done” and insisted “we truly did everything we could and continue to do everything that we can to minimise loss of life and to minimise suffering”.
The UK government has come under scrutiny for its handling of the pandemic, particularly its early failure to protect care homes, its failure to launch a functioning test and trace programme in time, and its decision to send millions of children back to school after the Christmas holidays for just one day before closing them again.
Starmer asked PM to explain why the UK has the highest number of deaths in Europe.
Johnson replied: “There will indeed be a time when we must learn the lessons of what has happened, reflect on them, and prepare. I don’t think that moment is now when we’re in the throes of fighting the new variant, when 37,000 people are struggling with COVID in our hospitals, and I think what the country wants is for us to come together as a parliament and as politicians to work to keep the virus under control.”
Questioned on what plans the government has for reopening schools, Johnson said he hoped they could reopen in England from 8 March “if we achieve our target of vaccinating everyone in the four most vulnerable groups with their first dose by February 15”, which is a government target.
England’s schools have been shut, with exemptions for vulnerable children or those of key workers, since January 5 when current lockdown measures were put in place.