Report by MPs says government’s response to Covid was ‘one of the worst ever public health failures’

The UK has one of the world’s highest death tolls from Covid, with more than 138,000 deaths

The UK’s early handling of the Covid pandemic has been described as ‘one of the worst public health failures in UK history’ in a landmark report.

Published by the Commons science and technology committee and the health and social care committee, the report was scathing of the decision to pursue ‘herd immunity’. It states that ‘the UK, along with many other countries in Europe and North America made a serious early error in adopting this fatalistic approach and not considering a more emphatic and rigorous approach to stopping the spread of the virus as adopted by many East and Southeast Asian countries.”

The UK has one of the world’s highest death tolls from Covid, with more than 138,000 deaths. The cross-party group of MPs also said that the pandemic had exposed ‘some major deficiencies in the machinery of government’, with protocols to share vital information between public bodies ‘absent’.

The 151-page report also says that the decision not to impose an earlier lockdown and act with urgency had resulted in a higher death toll. It adds: “This slow and gradualist approach was not inadvertent, nor did it reflect bureaucratic delay or disagreement between Ministers and their advisers. It was a deliberate policy— proposed by official scientific advisers and adopted by the Governments of all of the nations of the United Kingdom.”

Decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them were described as “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced.” The report concludes: “This happened despite the UK counting on some of the best expertise available anywhere in the world, and despite having an open, democratic system that allowed plentiful challenge.”

The decision to discharge elderly patients into care homes without testing them for coronavirus was also criticised. The MPs stated: “The UK was not alone in suffering significant loss of life in care homes, but the tragic scale of loss was among the worst in Europe and could have been mitigated.”

The report did however praise the vaccination programme, describing it as “one of the most effective initiatives in the history of UK science and public administration”.

Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay refused to apologise 11 times on Sky News following publication of the report.

Asked by Kay Burley if he would be apologising in the wake of the report, Mr Barclay replied: “Well no, we followed the scientific advice, we protected the NHS, we took the decisions based on the evidence before us.”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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