Pandemic’s ‘Eye-Watering’ Costs Will Linger, U.K. Lawmakers Say
British taxpayers will be paying an “eye-watering” price for the coronavirus long after the pandemic is over, according to a pair of reports released Sunday by a bipartisan panel of MPs.
“The Covid-19 response means government will be exposed to significant financial risks for decades to come,” the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts said.
“In making decisions and initiating measures at a much greater pace than during normal times, the government took on a greater level of risk by relaxing some of the rules around spending decisions.”
The estimated lifetime costs of the government measures reached 372 billion pounds ($511 billion) in May, with 172 billion reported spent, the committee said. The reports come days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted most remaining coronavirus restrictions for England.
Daily cases in the U.K. have ebbed in the past few days after rising toward peaks seen in January. With over two-thirds of adults fully vaccinated, though, hospitalizations and deaths haven’t risen as much. In all, the Covid-19 virus has caused about 129,000 deaths in the U.K. since March 2020.
Among other things, the reports said that much of the government’s stockpile of personal protective equipment was “not fit for purpose” and is costing millions of pounds a week to store.
“Potential waste levels are unacceptably high, with 2.1 billion items of PPE unsuitable for being used in medical settings, equating to over 2 billion pounds of taxpayers’ money.”
A public inquiry into the U.K.’s handling of the pandemic is still almost a year away and may last for years.
It is “clear that government cannot wait for the review before learning important lessons,” the CPA report said.
It’s also “important to distinguish between spending that is aimed at economic and societal recovery from Covid-19, from spending in direct response to Covid-19,” the panelists wrote.
At this point about 92% of government spending on Covid-19 measures was said to be for direct responses.
The 16-person committee is currently chaired by Labour MP Meg Hillier with membership from major political parties.
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