Sorry remained the hardest word for Boris Johnson today as he finally admitted there were things the Government “could have done differently” in its handling of the pandemic.
Having previously insisted his regime “took the right decisions at the right time”, the Prime Minister conceded lessons can be learned from the early stages of the crisis.
But his U-turn fell well short of the apology many feel he owes the nation.
And asked if he finds it hard to say “sorry”, Mr Johnson said: “I’m sorry if I don’t apologise. Put it that way.”
The PM spoke as it became compulsory to wear masks in shops today after new rules took effect across England – a move experts said should have come sooner.
Criticisms in the early weeks include failing to get enough personal protective equipment to health workers and to protect care homes.
Ministers have also been accused of being too late to put us in lockdown and set up the test and trace system.
Communication on the easing of lockdown has also been slammed as confusing and the Government blasted for setting border quarantines too late.
Mr Johnson today admitted they did not “understand [Covid-19] in the way we would have liked in the first few weeks and months”.
He said: “Maybe there were things we could have done differently and of course there will be time to understand what exactly we could have done, or done differently. When you listen to the scientists, the questions that you’ve asked are actually very open questions as far as they are concerned. And there will be a time obviously to consider all those issues.”
Challenged about apologising, he said: “I’m sorry if I don’t apologise. Put it that way.
“But of course there are things we get wrong and we are learning the whole time. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes as fast as possible and that’s what we’re doing.”
Asked to name a mistake the Government had made, he said: “It would be invidious to single out any particular mistake. There are aspects of the way Government works that need to be faster and more responsive to the needs of
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “ Boris Johnson has finally admitted the Government mishandled its response. The threat of a second wave is still very real. It is imperative the Government learns the lessons.”
Figures reveal the decline in weekly cases over the past few months appears to have stopped – but the Office for National Statistics said there was no evidence it had started to increase.
In the week to July 19, around one in 2,000 had coronavirus in the community in England.
But the previous week’s bulletin put the figure at around one in 2,300.
The R rate, or infection rate, in England and UK are both unchanged since last week and deaths in the UK rose by 123, bringing the toll to 45,677.
As face masks became compulsory in shops, the Police Federation urged stores to refuse entry to those flouting the rule after some high street chains said they will not penalise offenders.
Officers can hand out £100 fines. But John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said forces “do not have the resources” to widely enforce the law.
Police are exempt and one officer was spotted outside a Central London branch of Tesco without a mask yesterday, while a female officer was seen wearing a covering outside a Westminster branch of Leon.
And one man stunned shoppers by walking down Oxford Street in London wearing nothing but a face mask – which he was using as a thong.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Lord Bethell revealed that making people wear gloves in public remains “an area that we’re looking at”.
And in Leicester, the first city to go into local lockdown, non-essential shops reopened.