Coronavirus: UK had no economic plan for a pandemic, ‘astonishing failure’: Gov panel

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Boris Johnson’s administration had no economic plan for a pandemic as coronavirus hit the U.K. in an “astonishing failure of governance,” a cross-party panel of lawmakers said.

Ministers failed to consider how to deal with the economic consequences of an outbreak, despite it being identified as a top risk “for years, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said in a report on Thursday.

“Pandemic planning is the bread and butter of government risk planning, but we learn it was treated solely as a health issue, with no planning for the economic impacts,” Committee Chairman Meg Hillier said in a statement. “This meant that the economic strategy was of necessity rushed and reactive.”

The Treasury didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

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The report adds to a slew of criticism over the UK’s handling of the outbreak, including that it failed to get stocks of protective equipment to staff who needed it, went into lockdown too late, and had insufficient supplies of ventilators. Johnson has said there will be an inquiry into the epidemic, though no date has been set.

The panel said the Treasury waited until mid-March – just days before the government shuttered businesses nationwide – to devise the economic support programs it then rolled out. It also criticized a failure to plan how schools and pupils would be supported in the event of closures.

Hillier said a lack of planning meant the Treasury’s initial reaction was to deploy “a one-size fits alll response that’s leaving people -- and whole sectors of the economy -- behind.”

A second panel of Parliamentarians urged Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak to reconsider his decision to “draw a line under the unprecedented financial assistance he has extended to 12 million workers. The Treasury Committee said more than a million people hadn’t qualified for help from the chancellor’s support programs.

“Despite stating that he will not pick winners and losers when it comes to sectors and businesses that need support, the chancellor has done this when it comes to households and individuals,” Treasury Committee Chairman Mel Stride said. The government “cannot just turn its back on those who are suffering.”

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