Politics

Coronavirus: Minister says ‘wrong’ advice at start of COVID-19 outbreak could have led to mistakes

A senior minister has told Sky News that “wrong” advice at the start of the coronavirus outbreak could have led to mistakes in the government’s response.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey made the comments during an interview with Kay Burley in which she was challenged about ministers’ handling of COVID-19 in adult social care.

Asked if the government had, in hindsight, got the approach to care homes wrong, Ms Coffey told Kay Burley@Breakfast that “you can only make judgements and decisions based on the information and advice that you have at the time”.

Pressed again, she replied: “If the science was wrong, the advice at the time was wrong, I’m not surprised if people then think we made a wrong decision.

“But you have to take judgements based on what you have.”

The government’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak has been informed by advice from experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

Ms Coffey’s comments come after a cross-party group of MPs warned the UK has 10 key lessons to learn from its handling of the pandemic so far.

They said testing capacity has been “inadequate” throughout the pandemic, while the decision to stop community testing early in the outbreak was “one of the most consequential made”.

Responding to the report, a Downing Street spokesman said: “This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided at all times by the best scientific advice.”

When it comes to care homes, opponents and some voices in the sector have accused the government of being too slow to react to what was happening.

Official guidance, which was in place until 12 March, said it was “very unlikely” that those receiving care in a care home or the community would become infected with the virus.

On 15 April, more than three weeks after the UK was put in lockdown to try to control the spread of COVID-19, testing was expanded to include care home staff, residents with symptoms and those being discharged from hospital back into care homes.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that guidance was first released on 25 February when there was “no transmission of COVID-19 in the community” and that “we brought the lockdown in care homes ahead of the general lockdown”.

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