JONATHAN Ashworth was put on the spot as he was quizzed on whether the Labour Party should have challenged the Government at the start of the coronavirus outbreak to impose a lockdown.
Jonathan Ashworth faced some intense grilling a day after former Government advisor Prof Neil Ferguson claimed an earlier coronavirus lockdown would have halved the death toll. Good Morning Britain host Susanna Reid questions the shadow Health Secretary on whether the Labour Party should have pushed the Government to shut down businesses and schools earlier. The GMB presenter said: “The Labour Party approach at the beginning of the crisis was to be broadly supportive of the Government.
“Yesterday, the Prime Minister was asked if he had any regrets – I wonder whether you now regret not saying right at the beginning, more forcefully,’ go into lockdown.’
“We are not supporting you delaying, we need to lockdown now. And then you would have been on the side of Prof Ferguson rather than on the side of the Prime Minister.”
Mr Ashworth insisted the Labour Party had urged the Government to put the country in lockdown but had wanted to show a united front to help the UK go through the health crisis.
The Labour frontbencher said: “Well, we did call for the lockdown before this Government took us into lockdown and we did challenge the Government on mass gatherings, on pubs and restaurants.
“We were asking those questions and challenging the Government on these issues but I think it is important at a time of public health crisis like this that this isn’t an opportunity to score political points.
“I do think weve been too slow, too slow on lockdown, too slow on protecting NHS staff, too slow about care homes.”
Testifying in front of the Commons Health Committee said that potentially half of the 40,000 deaths from coronavirus in the UK could have been avoided if lockdown was imposed one week earlier.
Prof Ferguson said: “Had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half.
“So whilst I think the measures, given what we knew about this virus then, in terms of its transmission, were warranted… certainly had we introduced them earlier, we would have seen many fewer deaths.”
The Imperial College London Academic said scientific advisors to the Government had also made “the rather optimistic assumption that somehow the elderly would be shielded,” but he admitted “that simply failed to happen.”
Asked to comment on the assessment, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We made the decisions at the time on the guidance of SAGE, including Professor Ferguson, that we thought were right for this country.
“I think that the questions that are posed are still unanswered and there is a lot of data that we still do not have.”
Britains current death total stands at 41,128 according to official statistics.
However, in data released by the Office for National Statistics, the UK’s excess death total could be as high as 63,500.
Excess deaths state the deaths above the average over the previous five years.