Budget 2021: Ben Shephard challenges Rishi Sunak on GMB
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The coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the everyday lives of Britons as the vaccine rollout provides a light at the end of the tunnel. Around 225,000 people had their first dose of a vaccine yesterday, taking the total to nearly 31 million jabs administered. Some 270,000 had their second dose yesterday, meaning over four million have now had both shots. Another boost was given to the UK’s vaccine rollout as the Moderna jab will be introduced in April.
In total, Britain has ordered 17 million doses of the vaccine, which works in a similar way to the Pfizer jab.
The positive news is a welcome boost after a difficult year in which the UK has endured two waves in which cases surged.
The second was especially concerning, as in January the UK recorded a record 1,820 deaths in one day.
As the pandemic began to take hold once more, reports suggest tempers flared at the heart of Westminster as SAGE advisers fumed at the Government.
Extracts from Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott’s new book ‘Failures of State’ outlined the crucial delays in decisions taken by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
A senior source on the SAGE committee told the authors: “I don’t have sympathy for the Government making the same mistake twice.
“We told them quite clearly what they need to do for it to work. They don’t do that… It’s been wishful thinking all the way through. I think that probably characterises Boris Johnson, frankly.”
However, another figure that also came in for scrutiny was Chancellor Sunak.
Some sources from within Conservative Party indicated that some felt the economy was being prioritised over public health.
They claimed both Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Michael Gove were concerned about pressing ahead with Eat Out to Help Out, but “the voices that were prevailing in government, for whatever reason, were those that were pushing a case that was based purely on economic recovery at all costs as fast as possible”.
A SAGE source said on Eat Out to Help Out: “It wasn’t about support for restaurants, otherwise it would have counted for takeaways.
“It was to break our fear and it worked. We were obviously going to have to reverse that. It just seemed insane.”
A paper published in October suggested the scheme was responsible for between eight percent and 17 percent of new infection clusters (i.e. infections that shared a common location).
However, Full Fact highlights in its article earlier this month that “we cannot reliably say whether this is true. One study estimates that it did cause extra Covid cases, but it is uncertain, and often misunderstood”.
A SAGE source told the Times: “I thought the Chancellor was in charge. He was the main person who was responsible for the second wave.”
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As the UK has now got the virus back under control, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has warned against complacency.
He maintained that five week gaps are needed between each step to loosen lockdown, and warned another wave could still occur leading to additional 30,000 deaths if the Government isn’t careful.
Mr Whitty said earlier this month: “All the modelling suggests there is going to be a further surge and that will find the people who either have not been vaccinated or where the vaccine has not worked.
“Some of them will end up in hospital and sadly some of them will go on to die.”
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