UK's Early Response to Covid 19, Worst Public Health Failure Ever

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Publish Date : 11/05/2021 5:00
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Britain’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic was one of the worst public health failures in UK history, with ministers and scientists taking a “fatalistic” approach that exacerbated the death toll, a landmark inquiry has found.

According to a report by the UK MPs, the UK government approach - backed by its scientists - was to try to manage the situation and in effect achieve herd immunity by infection and this led to a delay in introducing the first lockdown, costing thousands of lives.

The report highlighted successes too, including the vaccination rollout, but campaigners criticised the report for failing to focus on those who had died, saying references to practical issues, including problems with laptops, was "laughable". Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said the report was damning. Hannah Brady, of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group, said the report found the deaths of 150,000 people were “redeemed” by the success of the vaccine rollout. “The report … is laughable and more interested in political arguments about whether you can bring laptops to Cobra meetings than it is in the experiences of those who tragically lost parents, partners or children to Covid-19. This is an attempt to ignore and gaslight bereaved families, who will see it as a slap in the face,” she said.

The 150-page document, Coronavirus: Lessons learned to date, is from the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee, and MPs from all parties.

The MPs called the pandemic, which has claimed more than 150,000 lives in the UK and nearly five million worldwide so far, the "biggest peacetime challenge" for a century. Some early failings, the report suggested, resulted from apparent "group-think" among scientists and ministers. It meant the UK was not as open to different approaches on earlier lockdowns, border controls and test and trace as it should have been.

Decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during those early weeks - and the advice that led to them - were described as "one of the most important public health failures the UK has ever experienced". "This slow and gradualist approach was not inadvertent, nor did it reflect bureaucratic delay or disagreement between ministers and their advisers," the report said, describing it as a "deliberate policy". "It is now clear that this was the wrong policy, and that it led to a higher initial death toll than would have resulted from a more emphatic early policy. In a pandemic spreading rapidly and exponentially, every week counted."

The UK was one of the first countries in the world to develop a test for Covid in January 2020, but failed to translate that into an effective test-and-trace system during the first year of the pandemic, the report said. Testing in the community stopped in March 2020 and for weeks during the first peak only those admitted to hospital were tested. It was not until May that the NHS Test and Trace system was launched in England, but the report described its start as "slow, uncertain and often chaotic".

Despite being one of the first countries to develop a test for Covid, the UK “squandered” its lead and “converted it into one of permanent crisis”. The consequences were profound, the report says. “For a country with a world-class expertise in data analysis, to face the biggest health crisis in 100 years with virtually no data to analyse was an almost unimaginable setback.”


The report highlighted "unacceptably high" death rates in ethnic minority groups and among people with learning disabilities and autism. For ethnic minorities, there were a variety of factors, including possible biological reasons and increased exposure because of housing and working conditions. For people with learning disabilities, not enough thought was given to how restrictions would have a detrimental impact on them - particularly in terms of accessing health care more generally. Do not resuscitate orders were also used inappropriately. There was a lack of priority attached to care homes too at the start of the pandemic.





“ UK's Early Response to Covid 19, Worst Public Health Failure Ever ”