British health chief defends virus case after Cummings attack

LONDON (AP) – Britain’s Minister of Health defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday after a former senior government official alleged that the government’s botched response led to tens of thousands of needless deaths.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock fired back after Dominic Cummings criticized him in a sky-high attack on the government.

In testimony to lawmakers on Wednesday, Cummings accused Hancock of lying to the public and said he “should have been fired” for errors including failed tests which saw patients with the virus leaving hospitals to retirement homes. Thousands of people have died from COVID-19 in British nursing homes in the first months of the outbreak.

Hancock said that “claims not based on honesty are not true.”

“I have always been frank with people in public and in private,” he told lawmakers in the House of Commons. “Every day since I started working on the response to this pandemic last January, I got up every morning and asked, ‘What should I do to protect life? “

Cummings, who stepped down as senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in November, claimed that the government’s slow and chaotic initial response, and that Johnson’s not learning from mistakes, meant tens of thousands of people had died needlessly.

He said Johnson was “unfit for the job” of prime minister.

Opposition Labor Party health spokesperson Jonathan Ashworth said whether or not Cummings’ claims were true the government had questions to answer.

“These Cummings allegations are either true, and if so, Secretary of State (Hancock) is potentially breaking the ministerial code … or they are false and the PM has brought a fantasy and a liar to the heart of Downing Street “. he said. “Which one is this?”

The UK has recorded nearly 128,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest death toll in Europe, and experienced one of the world’s deepest recessions in 2020 as three successive lockdowns hampered the economy.

A mass vaccination campaign that began in December has drastically reduced infections and deaths, although Britain now has a new, more transmissible strain of the virus first identified in India. It is spreading across the country and scientists expect it to become the dominant variant in Britain, but they say existing vaccines appear to work against it.

The government says it will open an independent public inquiry into its handling of the pandemic within the next year. Opposition politicians and families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 want it to start sooner.

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