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Michael Gove has apologised for a litany of “errors” made by UK ministers in their response to Covid-19, including the lack of consideration for the country’s most vulnerable children and delays in introducing lockdown measures.
The communities secretary told the official inquiry into the pandemic on Tuesday that he should “definitely have been more forthright” in calling for a first national shutdown earlier than March 23 2020.
Gove, who was at the time minister for the Cabinet Office, said he was particularly “concerned” at the lack of attention paid “to the impact on children, vulnerable children, of some of the measures that we took”.
Gove said he wanted to apologise “to the victims who endured such pain, the families who endured so much loss as a result of the mistakes that were made by government in response to the pandemic”. “I must take my share of responsibility for that,” he added.
His comments add to the series of damaging testimony from former top officials and ministers about Britain’s response to the pandemic under Boris Johnson, prime minister between 2019 and 2022.
The UK entered its first lockdown on March 23 2020, more than a week after senior advisers to Johnson recommended the move.
Researchers have warned that educational inequalities have widened since the outbreak of the pandemic. One report published this year estimated children lost more than one-third of a year’s worth of learning during the health crisis.
The UK’s Covid public inquiry is examining the government’s response to the virus that shut swaths of the economy, upended social life, and killed more than 227,000 people in Britain and infected many millions more. It is due to run until the summer of 2026.
Professor Dame Jenny Harries, former deputy chief medical officer for England, is also due to give evidence on Tuesday.
In addition to the UK being too slow to impose a lockdown in March 2020, Gove said measures should have been introduced earlier in the autumn, referring to the second lockdown that began in November 2020.
He said the government’s approach to community testing was not as rigorously thought through as it might have been, adding that the UK was “certainly not well enough prepared” for the pandemic.
The inquiry heard that Gove on March 4 2020 sent a WhatsApp message to Dominic Cummings, then Johnson’s chief adviser, in which he said: “You know me, I don’t often kick off but we’re fucking up as a government and missing golden opportunities.”
“I will carry on doing what I can but the whole situation is even worse than you think and action needs to be taken or we will regret it for a long time,” he added.
Gove on Tuesday said his comments referred to his concerns about the “ability” of the Cabinet Office, the department that runs the machinery of government, to respond to the unfolding situation.
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