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Therese Coffey has suggested if the government made mistakes in its response to the coronavirus pandemic it was because ministers got the “wrong” advice from its scientists.
The UK death toll has now passed 44,000 according to official figures compiled from across the country, and the government is under pressure over the spread of the virus in care homes.
Speaking to Sky News on Tuesday morning, the work and pensions secretary was asked with “hindsight” if the government had got things wrong.
“You can only make judgements and decisions based on the information and advice that you have at the time,” Coffey said.
“If the science was wrong, advice at the time was wrong, I’m not surprised if people will then think we then made a wrong decision.”
Coffey added: “We are getting advice from the scientists. It is for ministers to decide on policy.
“We have tried to take, every step of the way, making sure that we listen to the science, understand the science, and make decisions based on that.”
Ministers receive scientific advice from experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
Coffey’s comments came after statistician Sir Adrian Smith today warned ministers not to claim they were “simply doing what scientists tell us”.
The incoming the president of the Royal Society, the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, told The Times: “Politicians ultimately must make the decisions.”
Yesterday the deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, warned the public they might have to live with coronavirus “for several years”.
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published today, there were 9,980 coronavirus-related deaths in care homes registered up to May 8 in England and Wales.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, yesterday told MPs the government had erected “a protective ring around social care”.
But Jon Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said ministers had failed to put care homes in to “early lockdown” to stop the illness spreading.
Government advice issued on February 25 said it was “very unlikely” coronavirus would spread in care homes.
This was not updated until March 13, when care homes were asked to “review” their visiting policy.