The Covid-19 inquiry has heard that the pandemic taskforce was taken aback by Rishi Sunak's Eat Out to Help Out scheme. Simon Ridley, the former head of the taskforce, revealed that the policy was decided by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, leaving the taskforce blindsided. Lead counsel Hugo Keith KC expressed surprise at this revelation, emphasizing that the taskforce was responsible for advising the government on responding to the virus. Mr. Ridley acknowledged the concern, but stated that their focus was on providing advice rather than influencing policy decisions.
In a related development, emails presented to the inquiry shed light on the chaotic situation surrounding the discharge of NHS patients into care homes. These emails revealed that many of the discharged patients had asymptomatic cases of COVID-19. The concerns raised by officials about this issue were apparently not adequately addressed, adding to the growing criticism of the government's handling of the pandemic.
Another notable revelation from the inquiry was the presentation of a hypothetical scenario to Boris Johnson in September 2020. The scenario outlined a potential "circuit breaker" lockdown for the middle of October, but the Prime Minister did not choose to implement it. This raised questions about the decision-making process and whether the government's response to the pandemic was based on expert advice.
Simon Ridley also highlighted the excessive number of meetings during the pandemic, stating that there was a "profusion of officialdom." He described the situation as confusing, with different departments being incredibly busy. This further underlines the challenges faced by the government in coordinating its pandemic response effectively.
The inquiry also revealed that officials expressed serious concerns about the discharge of NHS patients into care homes. The aim was to free up capacity in hospitals, but officials were worried about asymptomatic patients spreading the virus in care settings. The inquiry showed that these concerns were not adequately addressed, indicating a lack of proactive measures to protect vulnerable populations.
Additionally, the inquiry heard that the government did not have a precise estimate of the number of people who would need to shield due to their vulnerability to the virus. Simon Ridley stated that the government did not have certainty on the number, but it was anticipated to be in the "low millions." The debate centered on whether shielding support should be limited to clinically extremely vulnerable individuals or extended to those who were socially vulnerable as well.
The Covid inquiry continues to uncover significant issues and challenges faced by the government during the pandemic. The lack of coordination, blindsiding of the taskforce, chaotic discharge of patients, and uncertainty surrounding shielding efforts raise concerns about the effectiveness of the government's response to the crisis.