‘We didn’t have exact measures’ in place for Covid says ex-civil service head

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media captionLord Sedwill discusses President Trump’s leadership, Covid and whether Dominic Cummings should have quit

The UK didn’t have the “exact measures” in place to deal with Covid, the ex-head of the civil service has said.

Lord Sedwill, who left his job last month, told the BBC there is “a genuine question” about whether the UK could have been “better prepared” for the pandemic.

He also said Dominic Cummings’ journey to County Durham during lockdown had been a mistake.

And he admitted to feeling “troubled” by attacks on the civil service.

Lord Sedwill stepped down as the UK’s top civil servant following reports of tensions between him and senior members of Boris Johnson’s team.

image copyrightPA Media

image captionThe former chief – then Sir Mark, now Lord Sedwill – with Boris Johnson after he became prime minister

In a wide-ranging interview with BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg he also talked about the “ups and downs” of President Trump’s leadership and the UK’s relationship with Russia and China.

Reflecting on the government’s handling of coronavirus, he said: “Although we had exercised and prepared for pandemic threats, we didn’t have in place the exact measures, and we hadn’t rehearsed the exact measures” for the challenge Covid-19 presented.

“I think there is a genuine question about whether we could have been better prepared in the first place and that is obviously a very legitimate challenge.”

He said any future inquiry would have to look at whether decisions were taken at the right time, if the lockdown was imposed fast enough and what capabilities the state had to deploy to tackle the virus.

Lord Sedwill, who contracted the virus himself, said he was “really proud of a great deal that we did” including setting up the Nightingale Hospitals.

image copyrightPA Media

image captionDominic Cummings said he did not regret driving 260 miles from his London home during the coronavirus lockdown

In May, the prime minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, said he had acted “reasonably” when he drove to County Durham after his wife developed Covid-19 symptoms.

Asked about the incident Lord Sedwill said that “it was clearly a difficult moment for the government”.

“It was a mistake – whether everyone should quit every time they make a mistake, I don’t think is right.

“But it clearly undermined the government’s coherent narrative about people following the rules.”

In his first interview since leaving one of the biggest jobs in the country, the man who was paid to give quiet careful advice is diplomatic with his language, certainly, but clear nonetheless.

While he takes pride in some of the government’s response to the pandemic, he said there is a genuine question about whether it could have been better prepared and admitted it lacked the “exact measures” for a disease of this kind.

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