LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisted calls for an inquiry into his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday as the country’s death toll neared 100,000 and his chief scientist said hospitals were looking like war zones.
Johnson has been accused of reacting too slowly to the crisis, failing to supply sufficient protective equipment and bungling the testing system, although the United Kingdom has been swift to roll out a vaccine.
The official death toll is 93,290 - Europe’s worst figure and the world’s fifth worst, after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico. Deaths rose by another record daily number on Wednesday.
There have been calls for a public inquiry from some doctors and bereaved families into the management of the crisis.
Johnson last year said he would hold an inquiry when the time was right, but has not outlined when that will be. Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, he said: “The idea that we should now concentrate...vast state resources to an inquiry now, in the middle of the pandemic, does not seem sensible to me.”
Ministers say that while they have not got everything right, they were making decisions at speed in the worst public health crisis for a century and that they have learned from mistakes and followed scientific advice.
As hospital admissions soared, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said there was enormous pressure on the National Health Service with doctors and nurses battling to give people sufficient care.
“It may not look like it when you go for a walk in the park, but when you go into a hospital, this is very, very bad at the moment with enormous pressure and in some cases it looks like a war zone in terms of the things that people are having to deal with,” Vallance told Sky television.
The British government reported a fresh record rise in deaths on Wednesday with 1,820 people dying within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test. Currently, 39,068 people are in hospital with COVID, 3,947 of them on ventilation.
The United Kingdom is currently under a lockdown, with bars and restaurants closed, only essential shops open, and restrictions on people’s activities.
But Vallance - formerly head of research at GlaxoSmithKline and a professor of medicine at University College London - said that loosening the lockdown too soon would be a mistake.
“The lesson is every time you release it too quickly you get an upswing and you can see that right across the world.”
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton, Alistair Smout and Andrew MacAskill, editing by Estelle Shirbon and Mark Heinrich
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