Suffolk MP: Politicians were late to understand extent of Covid threat

Dr Dan Poulter.

Dr Dan Poulter said his MP colleagues seemed unaware of the looming crisis in early 2020. - Credit: Paul Geater

Politicians seemed unaware of the crisis that was about to engulf them in the build up to the first national lockdown, according to Suffolk Central and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter.

Dr Poulter works part-time at a London hospital, and said he found there was a total disconnect between his two worlds at that time.

He said: "At the end of February and the beginning of March we were getting really concerned in the hospital. We were hearing reports from a wide area about the new virus - and we were very sure we were seeing cases but it was not possible to get testing so we didn't know for sure.

"In hospitals everyone was worried - but in the House of Commons no one seemed that concerned. We were still talking about Brexit and it wasn't until the second half of March that anyone was talking about this. There really was a disconnect because the world in the hospital and in Westminster."

He said the experience of the last year showed that governments needed to be much better prepared for pandemics - and he feared this may not be the only one we see in our lifetimes.

But he is optimistic that the current measures, combined with the vaccine roll-out, will mean that life in Britain can return to something like normality in the summer although foreign holidays will be out because of problems in other parts of the world.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said while with hindsight some decisions could have been different, overall the government response had been good.

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He said: "You have to remember that before the start of the first lockdown, and then again in September, some experts were warning that a premature lockdown could cause more harm than good."

Ipswich council leader David Ellesmere

Ipswich council leader David Ellesmere said rebuilding needed to recognise that the poorest had suffered most during the pandemic. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Ipswich Council leader David Ellesmere said Covid had had a serious impact on the town - and the borough's finances: "As we rebuild, it must be better than before.

"This pandemic has been a severe test for our country and the virus has ruthlessly exploited the weaknesses that were already there. Years of underinvestment in public services and our low paid, insecure job market have both contributed to Britain being more severely affected than many countries.

"But Covid has not affected everyone equally and those who already had least are those who have suffered most. The fundamental lesson we need to learn is that our society is only as strong as its weakest member."

Suffolk Coastal MP and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Dr Therese Coffey has been at the eye of the storm with the government's job retentions schemes over the last year.

She said: "As a Cabinet Minister for the largest department in government, I’ve been flat out with DWP Ministerial work, ensuring support is in place for people that need it.

"Less travelling has given me more time for online meetings. I really miss that human contact that meeting people gives all of us though and as someone that previously met lots of people that change in culture has been especially difficult.

"Whilst some of our new ways of working will become embedded, like the convenience of Zoom calls, thanks to the successful vaccine rollout, I hope it won’t be too long before I’m experiencing a full House of Commons again and enjoying the many events across Suffolk Coastal.”

Jo Churchill

Bury St Edmunds MP and health minister Jo Churchill - Credit: Paul Geater

Bury St Edmunds MP and Junior Health Minister Jo Churchill said: "My role as a Minister in the department of Health and Social Care has meant I have been at the heart of the government response to the pandemic from the beginning.

"During the past year we have worked tirelessly to ensure the NHS has all it needs in the fight against coronavirus, in addition to working to deliver and rollout a vaccination programme and ensure that the NHS is still open for those needing non-Covid treatment.

"I understand that people will argue about the performance of the government through the pandemic and everyone is entitled to their view. I do believe however, that we have seen an enormous amount of innovation and progress as we have moved through the pandemic."

Suffolk County Council leader Matthew Hicks looks at the response to the Covid crisis in his column today.

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