SCOTTISH Labour has demanded that Holyrood launches its own detailed inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic after a damning report from MPs criticised the UK Government’s slow response at the start of the crisis.
A joint report from the UK Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee, found that the Conservative government at Westminster, backed by scientific experts, attempted to manage the early outbreak of the virus and essentially achieve herd immunity by infection.
The report said that serious errors and delays at the hands of the UK Government and scientific advisers cost lives during the pandemic.
The study said the UK’s preparation for a pandemic was far too focused on flu, while ministers waited too long to push through lockdown measures in early 2020.
In a wide-ranging report, MPs said the UK’s pandemic planning was too “narrowly and inflexibly based on a flu model” that failed to learn the lessons from Sars, Mers and Ebola.
In their study, they said this was “a deliberate policy” proposed by scientists and adopted by UK governments, which has now been shown to be “wrong” and led to a higher death toll.
The MPs said the “decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them – rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”.
The report focuses on the response to the pandemic in England. MPs did not investigate measures taken individually by devolved administrations including the Scottish Government.
In response, Labour has called for a detailed enquiry to be started to ensure the decisions taken by Nicola Sturgeon during the pandemic face the same level of scrutiny.
In August, the First Minister confirmed a judge-led public inquiry into the pandemic will be set up by the end of the year.
Announcing the move at a Covid briefing, Ms Sturgeon said it was right to begin the statutory inquiry “as soon as possible”, adding it would take a “person-centred, human rights-based approach”.
Scottish Labour health and Covid recovery spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said: “Nicola Sturgeon ignored the same warnings as UK Ministers and with the same tragic outcome.
“At crucial points in the pandemic the UK and Scottish Governments were in lockstep – acting too slowly in response to the danger and failing to warn the public of the risk.
“But while England will benefit from the findings of this robust and detailed report, Scotland has been denied early findings of its own.
“Nicola Sturgeon’s own MPs helped deliver this analysis at Westminster while in Scotland they dither and delay on making sure her decisions are put under the microscope.
“Scotland deserves better.”
The Scottish Conservatives have demanded a public inqury is set up urgently after the October recess.
The party’s health spokesperson, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said: “The SNP are still dragging their heels over beginning a Scottish Covid public inquiry. Nicola Sturgeon must now commit to starting this inquiry immediately after the October recess.
“Over 11,000 grieving families across Scotland need and deserve answers now. Nicola Sturgeon only announced plans for a Covid inquiry at the last minute, despite saying it was a priority for her during the election campaign.”
He added: “This is far too important for the usual nationalist dither and delay. They must take responsibility for their own critical errors during the pandemic, instead of hiding behind UK-wide reports.
“The Scottish Conservatives first secured cross-party support for an urgent Covid inquiry in November last year. The time for excuses is now over. This must be the first item on the agenda for MSPs as soon as the Scottish Parliament returns.”
Earlier this week, reports claimed the First Minister overruled advisors who suggested telling the public about a coronavirus outbreak at the Nike conference in Edinburgh – before the pandemic officially started in Scotland.
Ian Murray, Labour’s Shadow Scottish Secretary, added: “This is a devastating report on the catastrophic failings of the UK Government, which cost thousands of lives.
“Lessons must be learned both in England and here in Scotland, where the SNP made identical fatal errors.
“In fact, Nicola Sturgeon chose to overrule her own health advisers to cover-up an outbreak in Edinburgh – which is simply unforgiveable – and her government failed to act on warnings in readiness exercises, and even allowed older patients who had tested positive for Covid into care homes.
“Westminster’s committee system is robust in holding the UK Government to account, and there now needs to be a similar forensic approach taken in Scotland, including a rapid public inquiry.
“The people of Scotland deserve an apology from the First Minister for the cover-ups and the catastrophic errors made.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The joint Westminster committee report identifies failing after failing at a time when both the UK and Scottish governments were working in tandem.
“People whose parents died in care homes, those struggling with long Covid and those whose businesses went under need answers about the decisions that were taken which turned their lives upside down.”
He added: “However, let’s not pretend that meaningful scrutiny of the biggest decisions taken by SNP ministers will come from passive SNP backbenchers and green MSPs bound by a ‘no surprises’ contract.
“What we need is a proper independent inquiry led by a judge with legal powers to get to the bottom of this. This should be set up by Christmas and given a strict timeline for making an initial report of its findings.”
SNP member of the House of Commons Science committee, Carol Monaghan, said: “Every government around the world will have lessons to learn about the handling of this unprecedented pandemic.
“The difficulty for Boris Johnson is that he repeatedly ignored the warnings and took decisions that flew in the face of the evidence – encouraging people to shake hands, refusing to support mask-wearing, pressuring workers to go back to the office prematurely, failing to introduce border controls, and being too slow to introduce covid restrictions.
“The UK Government must now bring its covid inquiry forward so it is on the same timescale as the inquiry already announced by the Scottish Government.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While this report is primarily concerned with the actions of the UK Government, we will consider its findings carefully as we continue to respond to the impact of the pandemic in Scotland.
“Since the early stages of our pandemic response we have been committed to a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic in Scotland, to ensure that lessons are learned for the future.
“Public feedback has been gathered which will inform the terms of reference to be agreed between ministers and the chair, once they have been appointed, ahead of the inquiry’s establishment later this year.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by scientific and medical experts and we never shied away from taking quick and decisive action to save lives and protect our NHS, including introducing restrictions and lockdowns.
“Thanks to a collective national effort, we avoided NHS services becoming overwhelmed and our phenomenal vaccination programme has built a wall of defence, with over 24.3 million infections prevented and more than 130,000 lives saved so far.
“As the Prime Minister has said, we are committed to learning lessons from the pandemic and have committed to holding a full public inquiry in spring.”