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‘Extremely slow’, ‘opaque’ and ‘phenomenal’: Norfolk’s MPs’ views on the government’s coronavirus action

PUBLISHED: 16:46 25 March 2020 | UPDATED: 17:05 25 March 2020

Norfolk's MPs have spoken out about the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak. Pictured, (L-R) Clive Lewis, Norwich South Labour MP, and Duncan Baker, Conservative MP for North Norfolk. Photos: Archant

Norfolk's MPs have spoken out about the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak. Pictured, (L-R) Clive Lewis, Norwich South Labour MP, and Duncan Baker, Conservative MP for North Norfolk. Photos: Archant

Archant

The government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been slammed as “opaque” and “extremely slow” - with the prime minister’s lockdown announcement sparking warnings the country risks moving into a police state.

Sources accused the government of failing to share vital information with MPs or to “weigh the consequences” of a policy of herd immunity – which has since been dropped in favour of more stringent measures.


People have been ordered to stay inside their homes, with shops, pubs, restaurants and schools closed, to conserve vital resources as the NHS prepares to tackle the peak of the disease.


Norfolk’s MP’s, however, continue to back Boris Johnson’s approach to the “unprecedented” crisis, and praised the government for doing a “phenomenal job”.


But there are fears the UK’s stricter response may have come too late, after a sunny weekend saw people flocking to National Trust properties and coastal beauty spots across the country.


A Norfolk Conservative source described the broadcasting of the “herd immunity” theory as “a massive mistake” and warned it may have contributed to people failing to obey official advice.


“People thought if you’re young you should mix, because you’re helping to develop herd immunity,” they said.

READ MORE: Norfolk MP calls for ‘Covid coalition’ to tackle growing national emergency

“There’s a sense we were behind or there was until The PM’s national address.

”
The prime minister has also been criticised for his reluctance to introduce stricter measures with the source blaming his “liberal political streak”.


“He never wanted people to wear helmets on bicycles. I think that has made him very reticent to do quickly what others may have done more quickly,” the source added.


“If the idea takes hold that other countries handled it better and Boris Johnson was slow to get on top of it – slow isn’t a crime, but I think if they think he’s been slow because of his principles that will be a problem.

”
Others felt the government could have acted faster. 
“The government’s been extremely slow to take this seriously,” Ben Goodwin, Liberal Democrat spokesman for Broadland, said.


“We’re in the right place now or we’re getting to the right place but these are actions that could have been taken weeks ago. We’re trying to recruit people [to the NHS] - that should have been done weeks ago.”

READ MORE: ‘It will pass, but tough times are ahead’ - MPs write joint letter to Norfolk


He urged the government: “Test people, everywhere, all the time, and then isolate and treat them. The UK is testing only a few thousand people a day. This number needs to be far higher.”


He added that the prime minister’s statements “suggested he has failed to take the crisis seriously”, and said: “Herd immunity would also kill hundreds of thousands and collapse the health system. Our leader has failed to weigh the consequences.”


And Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, said the announcement of stricter measures to keep people indoors amounted to the UK “basically moving into a police state”.


He said: “I think everyone accepts they need more powers which need to be reviewed and that’s fine - but in the context of the fact that many people have an all-time low opinion of the government after the last five to ten years, the government needs to be able to act.

”
But Mr Lewis also said access to information for MPs working to support vulnerable constituents was limited.

“I’m being kept informed weekly. We’re trying to contact people to find out what’s happening but by the time you find them the situation has changed,” he said.


“The support for people on Universal Credit just isn’t enough. The other big issue is people trapped abroad - other countries are repatriating their citizens. The government is still very opaque and we’re having to wrangle questions out of them.

”
But George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk, said: “This crisis is unprecedented. Decisions to curtail public freedom and shut down the economy are not taken lightly in a democracy. This isn’t China.


“I think the prime minister and government have done the right thing.”

READ MORE: MP’s fears for parliament votes if coronavirus spread forces shutdown


But he added that there would be “lots of lessons to learn”, including “how Number 10 and NHS leaders can communicate more clearly without causing a panic”.


While Duncan Baker, Conservative MP for North Norfolk, added: “The government is moving at unprecedented speed.


“The prime minister is doing a phenomenal job in trying to protect people and if people don’t adhere to the social distancing rules then he will move further.”


North West Norfolk MP James Wild urged people to stay at home, and warned: “We’ve had two deaths at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and if we don’t follow the advice we’re going to lose more people. It’s essential we all play our part.”


He added: “The strategy the health secretary set out a few weeks ago now - most of what we’re doing now was foreshadowed in that. 
“The government has been led by scientists and experts.”


And Brandon Lewis, Conservative MP for Great Yarmouth, said: “The government response has been led by medical and scientific advice. Economically, it’s about working to ensure the economy can have space to recover when we come out the other side."

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