Prime Minister ‘reluctant’ to link high rates of Covid deaths with areas hit by austerity

Boris Johnson has said he is “reluctant” to link high coronavirus death rates in the south Wales valleys to austerity measures imposed by previous UK Governments.

The Prime Minister said there was “no doubt” that some areas of the UK had been hit worse than others during the pandemic but added that he believed the reasons behind them were “multifactorial”.

This week the Rhondda Cynon Taf local authority area in the region’s valleys had the third highest rate of death from Covid-19 in the UK.

On Wednesday Mr Johnson (pictured) travelled to south Wales to carry out a series of Covid-19 related visits, which included Cwmbran’s mass vaccination centre, South Wales Police’s headquarters in Bridgend, and the new UK Government hub in Cardiff.

Asked during a Welsh media Q&A if he agreed with First Minister Mark Drakeford’s recent comments that poverty caused by austerity was behind the high rates of death in valleys communities, Mr Johnson said: “There is no doubt that sadly some parts of the UK have been worse hit than others.

“I think that there will be a time when we go over everything and when we try and isolate all the causes. But I think it is multifactorial. I think there are lots of different things going on. Possibly different factors present in different places.

“I think I’d be reluctant to ascribe a single cause like that. I think there are many different vulnerabilities that different groups may or may not have.”

Mr Johnson also said that Westminster would be making sure that all areas of the UK were “properly resourced” with vaccines into the autumn and beyond but said there was “currently no plan to differentiate between different parts of the country”.

His comments contrast with ones previously made with Mr Drakeford last month when he said that Wales would likely receive “a little more” of the UK’s share of vaccines because it has the oldest population.

Asked why he was visiting Wales when the UK population was being asked not to travel, Mr Johnson said: “My job is to oversee the rollout of the vaccination programme and go round the country thanking everybody who’s doing it.

“I think it’s right for me to do that and right for people to hear from me and also hear them put their points to me directly wherever I go around the country about how they see things, what they want done, and I think it’s a very important part of getting this job done.”

Earlier on Wednesday Mr Johnson said discussions will continue with Mr Drakeford and the other devolved nations over whether the UK will leave lockdown at the same time.

He said: “We have continuous conversations with Mark Drakeford, with other representatives of the devolved administrations, about how to do it, just as we work on the vaccination programme together.

“We try and make sure we concert our approach and our general messages.”

Mr Johnson was also asked if he could take any lessons from Mr Drakeford’s handling of the pandemic in Wales, which became the first country in the UK to completely vaccinate its over-70s and has the highest population share of first doses given out.

Mr Johnson said: “I think that across the whole of the UK there has been an outstanding vaccination performance.

“It’s great to be here in Cwmbran. I think it’s 46,000 they’ve done in this centre, a really outstanding achievement.

“I think, as the song goes: ‘I’ve been all around the world and then Japan, I’ve never found a place for vaccines like Cwmbran.’ How about that?

“It just seems to be going incredibly well here and there’s a real spirit of pride and people really working hard, and people coming forward to get the vaccine because they know that’s the right thing for themselves, and their families, and also the right thing for the whole community.”

At the vaccination centre Mr Johnson spoke to volunteers administering jabs as well as members of the public, offering an elbow bump in place of a handshake.

He told one nurse: “I can’t believe it, this is the busiest centre I’ve seen.”

The Prime Minister also said he felt “like OJ Simpson” as he struggled to pull on a pair of protective gloves.

It referenced the moment in Simpson’s murder trial when the US actor and sports star had difficulty putting on gloves thought to have been used in the killing of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

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