‘Disgraceful’: Covid-19 bereaved families shown ‘huge disrespect’ by Boris Johnson’s Calvin Klein pants gag
PUBLISHED: 19:46 15 July 2020 | UPDATED: 21:20 15 July 2020
A woman whose brother died of Covid-19 has accused Boris Johnson of showing bereaved families “huge disrespect” in the Houses of Parliament today, after he cracked a joke about Calvin Klein pants when he was asked what he would like to say to families who have lost loved ones in the pandemic.
Tricia Barnett’s brother Laurence died of Covid-19 on March 22 - the day before the UK went into lockdown.
Ms Barnett, of Archway, has joined the group Covid-19 Families for Justice UK in calling on the government to hold an inquiry into its preparation for, and management of the pandemic, to ensure mistakes are learned before a second wave hits.
A report commissioned by Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, has suggested coronavirus infections could grow “out of control” in the UK with a second spike leading to 120,000 deaths in a “reasonable worst-case scenario”.
During Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons today, Labour leader Keir Starmer told Boris Johnson he would be meeting with the group, which is made up of hundreds of bereaved families, this afternoon,
“They say this and I quote: “We won’t let the deaths of our loved ones be in vain and we won’t allow the government to risk a second wave of deaths without learning from their mistakes,” said Mr Starmer.
“They will be listening to the Prime Minister’s answers today so what would the Prime Minister like to say to them?” he asked.
Mr Johnson replied: “I join with every member of the House in mourning the loss of everyone who has died in this epidemic and I can assure him and through him, the victims and their families, that we will do everything in our power to prevent a second spike in this epidemic.”
But then he said Mr Starmer should decide if he “backed the government’s programme or not”, adding: “One day he says it’s safe to go back to school. The next day he’s supporting the unions. One day he’s backing our economic programme. The next day they’re saying our stamp duty cut is an unacceptable bung. One day they are saying they accept the result of the Brexit referendum. The next day they are going to tell their troops to do the exact opposite.
“He needs to make up his mind which brief he’s going to take today because at the moment, Mr Speaker, he’s got more briefs than Calvin Klein.”
This afternoon, Ms Barnett told the Gazette: “I can honestly say my feelings as part of this group of bereaved families has been shown a huge disrespect by the Prime Minister and his government.
“When you have someone who has died, what he said is not just shocking.
“It’s disgraceful, and it becomes personal.
“His comment is outside the boundaries of acceptability, and shows him as a man without any comprehension of empathy or any sense of responsibility.”
The UK has had one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus, and the official death toll from Covid-19 is above 40,000, with excess deaths of over 60,000.
The government has been criticised for not locking down soon enough, for allowing travellers from abroad to enter the country without having to go into quarantine, for not implementing a test and trace programme soon enough, for its confused messaging, and for not having an adequate tracing system up and running despite opening up the country again.
Ms Barnett’s brother Laurence collapsed at home six days after travelling on the tube to an appointment at Moorfields Eye Hospital where no members of staff were wearing personal protective equipment.
He had to wait over three hours for an ambulance, died of pneumonia and kidney failure in hospital after being put on a ventilator.
Ms Barnett, who chairs the campaign group, Keep Our NHS Public in Islington, said: “ My beloved brother died, who was my friend. The detail of my loss of my truly loved brother is something that is private, and it has had to be made public. Our private grief needs to be public.
“As a member of the bereaved families group, we want to understand better, and we want the whole country to understand better and be safeguarded in the future, and that will only happen if there is a review set up now.
“This Prime Minister has not had the courtesy and dignity to respond appropriately to our request to meet him, and to put forward the inquiry immediately so we can take the lessons learned and ensure as few people as possible die in a second wave.”
In the Commons today Mr Johnson did commit to an independent inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic amid pressure from MPs.
However he said he does not believe now is the right time for such an investigation.
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