Today, Matt Hancock takes his turn to appear in front MPs on the joint committee on COVID-19, following the explosive allegations made in former advisor Dominic Cummings’s testimony a few weeks back.


Cummings’s explosive testimony described a chaotic, poorly prepared and badly run Government desperately wrestling with the biggest peacetime crisis our country has faced for generations. But in between the pyrotechnics of his Committee appearance, and Hancock’s today, it’s worth taking some time to absorb the facts behind the UK Government’s COVID response.


The simple fact is, the UK has the worst death toll in Europe and Government delays and decisions have led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.


The delays in implementing the second and third national lockdowns were against scientific advice and against calls made by the Labour Party.


Over two-thirds (67.3%) of deaths in the UK have occurred since September (i.e. after the first wave).


Even  now, the Government continue to make decisions to detrimental to public health, with decisions around the red list and border controls allowing the “Indian variant” to get a foothold.

Timeline of government delay


Second national lockdown (circuit break)

21 Sep 2020:       Minutes show SAGE urged the government to impose a fortnight lockdown

13 Oct 2020:       Following publication of the SAGE minutes, Labour called for a two week circuit-break lockdown over the half-term break.[i] The Prime Minister initially rejected this, citing his wish to avoid the ‘misery of another national lockdown’.[ii]

31 Oct 2020:       18 days after Labour’s call, Boris Johnson announced a four-week national lockdown.[iii]

26 May 2021:      Dominic Cummings said in the select committee hearings “after the first lockdown, [the PM’s] view was, he was cross with me and for others into what he regarded as basically pushing him into the first lockdown.”…“His argument after that happened was literally, quote, ‘I should have been the mayor of Jaws and kept the beaches open’. That’s what he said on many, many occasions.”


Christmas Restrictions

15 Dec 2020:       Labour demanded an urgent review of Christmas COVID rules.[iv] The Prime Minister mocked Keir Starmer’s criticism, saying he wanted to ‘cancel Christmas’.[v]

19 Dec 2020:       4 days after Labour’s call, Boris Johnson cancelled plans for Christmas bubbles for those in London and the South East.[vi]


Third national lockdown

22 Dec 2020:       Keir Starmer wrote to the Prime Minister saying that the Government should act immediately if SAGE recommends tougher restrictions.[vii] The Prime Minster had previously received advice on 18 December about the spread of the new variant. SAGE minutes on 22 December recommended that a November-style lockdown wouldn’t be enough to contain the new wave.

3 Jan 2021:         Keir Starmer told Boris Johnson to stop the delay and impose a national lockdown within 24 hours. [viii]

5 Jan 2021:         13 days after Labour’s initial call, the Prime Minister announced a third national lockdown.

Borders timeline

  • In a 6 June 2020 letter to Priti Patel, Nick Thomas-Symonds said the approach to arrivals to the UK had ‘lacked urgency and coherence from the start’. [ix]
  • On 7 January 2021, Labour accused the government of leaving the nation’s “doors unlocked” to COVID mutations.
  • On 21 January, it emerged that SAGE told the government that only a ‘complete, pre-emptive closure of borders, or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival… can get close to fully preventing the importation of new cases or new variant’[x].
  • On 29 January, Labour announced it was forcing a vote to extend the hotel quarantine plans laid out by the Government, beyond the “red list” of 30 countries and instead cover all travellers entering the UK.
  • On 1 February, Boris Johnson orders Tory MPs to abstain in Labour’s vote demanding quarantine for all overseas arrivals.[xi]
  • On 9 February 2021, more than five months later, Matt Hancock told the Commons all international arrivals would be tested on day two and day eight of their quarantine.[xii]
  • By 19 April, when it was announced that India would be added to the ‘red list’ of countries, Nick Thomas-Symonds said Ministers must accept the blame for failing in their duty to keep people safe, continuing to put lives at risk and undermining our national progress on the vaccine. [xiii]
  • On 17 May, international travel resumed with a ‘traffic light’ system, which included 171 countries on the amber list.
  • On 18 May Nick Thomas-Symonds criticised the government’s conflicting advice about whether people are allowed to travel to amber list countries, and called on the government to pause international travel to guard against importing further dangerous strains.[xiv]
  • On 19 May Environment Secretary George Eustice suggested that people could travel to amber list countries to “visit friends”.[xv] Boris Johnson later told people they should not travel on holiday to amber list countries.[xvi]

Indian variant timeline

  • Cases of the B1617 variant, which originated in India, in the UK have were first detected in samples from as early as February and March 2021.[xvii]
  • On March 24: India’s health ministry warned about a so-called ‘double mutant’ variant.[xviii]. On 30 March the British Medical Journal publishes an article warning India’s cases have “taken a sharp upward turn since March”, noting that globally, India had the “third highest number of confirmed cases and deaths from Covid-19 after Brazil and the US.” [xix]
  • On 1 April, B.1.617.1 was designated under investigation.[xx]
  • On April 2, the UK announces four countries, including India’s neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh, will join the red list for foreign travel – but did not include India in this. The Mirror reports that this time India’s overall rate of new cases has shot from a low of around 10,000 a day to 81,000 a day.[xxi]
  • On 19 April the Prime Minister cancels a trip to India due to take place on 26 April.[xxii]
  • It was not until April 23 that the government put India put on the UK’s ‘red list’ for foreign travel, noting that “there is a high volume of travel between India and the UK, and we have already seen 103 cases of the variant under Investigation (VUI) in the UK”. [xxiii]
  • By 6 May two more variants (B.1.671.2) and (B.1.617.3) were designated as under investigation and of concern.[xxiv],[xxv]
  • Since then the variant has continued to spread, leading the government to change its vaccination approach to tackle rising cases of B1.617.2 variant on 14 May.[xxvi]

Photo courtesy of UK Parliament.

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