The UK’s former chief scientific adviser says Boris Johnson’s slow response to the coronavirus pandemic cost lives

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‘Why we didn’t respond so much sooner once this epidemic broke out in China, I simply don’t know,’ Sir David, who advised the UK government between 2000 and 2007, said. Reuters
  • The UK’s slow response to the coronavirus pandemic cost lives, according to the country’s former chief scientific adviser.
  • “Why we didn’t respond so much sooner once this epidemic broke out in China, I simply don’t know,” Professor Sir David King told LBC Radio.
  • He said a decade’s worth of UK government cuts to public services had exacerbated the crisis.
  • The UK government denies acting too slowly to lock down the country.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The UK government’s failure to act “much sooner” to tackle the coronavirus pandemic caused a significantly higher death toll in the country, according to the country’s former chief scientific adviser.

Professor Sir David King told LBC Radio on Wednesday said that Boris Johnson’s government should have acted as soon as the outbreak began in China.

“Why we didn’t respond so much sooner once this epidemic broke out in China, I simply don’t know,” Sir David, who advised the UK government between 2000 and 2007, said.

“And I say this because, in 2006, we published a report on actions needed to deal with a pandemic and in that report, we showed that if an outbreak occurred of any new virus of this kind, anywhere in the world, within three months, due to air travel, it would be everywhere in the world and that, of course, is what has happened – and it seems that we were unprepared and we didn’t take action.”

King pointed to pictures of crowds attending the Cheltenham horse races in the middle of March, despite the virus rapidly spreading across the country.

“Imagine, 16th March, having a horse race go on with a massive crowd at Cheltenham,” he said.

“We didn’t manage this until too late and every day’s delay has resulted in further deaths in the United Kingdom.”

King said government cuts to public services over the past decade had exacerbated the slow response to the crisis.

“I think it really is very difficult because it goes right back to 2010, when the government came in with a very clear policy to reduce public spending across the board, including the National Health Service and I’m afraid these austerity measures did lead to the cutting back on the risk management programmes,” he said.

“And clearly this also managed to cause problems with flooding across the UK. We were much better prepared for better spending for the Environment Agency on that and equally unprepared for pandemics. For me, this is very upsetting because we had set this preparation process in place, as I say, back in 2006.”

Asked if the cuts had led directly to more deaths in the UK he replied “Absolutely. That is what I’m saying.”

The UK government has denied acting too late in tackling the crisis compared to other countries with lower death tolls.

Responding to King’s comments on Wednesday, the prime minister’s official spokesman told a press briefing: “The Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor have spoken about this on any number of occasions and explained that we believe we took the right decisions at the right point in time.”

Asked by Business Insider on Monday whether the government’s response had cost lives, the First Secretary of State Dominic Raab replied that “I don’t think those comparisons are like-for-like because of where we are on the curve… and the individual circumstances in those countries, but we will continue to monitor what is going on in those countries.”

Watch Dominic Raab defend the UK’s response to the coronavirus