A public inquiry is needed over the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, according to University of East Anglia professor Rupert Read.

In this opinion piece, Prof Read, a spokesman for Extinction Rebellion, explains his view that the government has let the public down - and criticises the letter from prime minister Boris Johnson which has been delivered to homes across Norfolk.

“Let’s cut to the chase; our government has let us down in the way they have handled this pandemic – with devastating consequences.

“Not only that but many of us have now received a letter stating a fuller lockdown might be needed which puts the blame firmly on our shoulders.

“And that’s just wrong.

“Make no mistake, it is government policy that has led to the dire situation we are now in.

“It might seem insensitive to make this point with Boris Johnson poorly but, while I wish him a full and speedy recovery, this is not about him, but rather the government as a whole and its advisors who have mismanaged this pandemic.

“The letter says: ‘From the start, we have sought to put in the right measures at the right time’.

“Not true. In February, I and my colleagues began calling for tougher measures. When that didn’t work, a few weeks ago, I coordinated a letter, signed by the likes of Norfolk-stalwart, Ian Gibson, ex-MP for Norwich North and a former chairperson of the House of Commons Science Select Committee, calling for action.

“In reality, long before that, they should have moved to stop flights from Italy and China. They should have quarantined those who possibly had the virus. They should have ordered ventilators and personal protective equipment for carers. They should have begun a mass program of testing. They should have provided enough to live on to all those tempted to work sick.

“But, even after receiving our letter, and even after being told firmly by the World Health Organisation that they were letting everyone down through their inactivity, they did virtually nothing.

“I’m not saying that dealing with this virus crisis is easy. Far from it. I don’t envy governments and their advisers in this unprecedented task.

“But the unprecedentedness is exactly why we needed them to take strong action to protect us and to stay ahead of the curve.

“It is why we deserve honesty from them now – and, as his letter shows, that isn’t happening.

“If a fuller lockdown comes, it is not for the reason they are insinuating; trying to blame us for the mess they created, when we the people led the way.

“We chose to cancel events, started to work from home and initiated physical distancing long before they urged us to.

“And we continue to lead now by being there for each other, and by supporting our NHS and by demanding our carers get the personal protective equipment they so desperately need and deserve.

“Think about this: South Korea came through it with no lockdown at all because they acted fast - staying ahead of the virus - to mass test, to contact trace, to physically distance.

The difference between them and us? Government policy.

“This is on them, not us.

“You might ask, why does it matter now? Surely it’s a case of ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’? Why not concentrate on the future, not the past?

“It matters because thousands are dying unnecessarily and it matters because we’re still only at the relatively early stages of this emergency.

“We will get through it, together. When it’s over, we must memorialise the dead by making sure nothing like this fiasco can ever happen again.

“That begins with a full public inquiry into how our government came to have, for a while, the worst policy of inaction on coronavirus in the whole world; a policy that will have killed many of our loved ones.

When the government doesn’t protect, we have to lead the way. We Brits are lions; we deserve better than to be ‘led’ by donkeys.”

• Professor Rupert Read is associate professor of philosophy at the University of East Anglia, a former Green party city councillor and a spokesman for Extinction Rebellion.