The failure of Britain to establish a lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic led to thousands of deaths. It is also one of the worst public health mistakes in the country, as lawmakers concluded Tuesday in the first comprehensive report of the pandemic.
According to the report, the deadly delay was caused by the failure of British ministers to question scientific advisors’ recommendations. This led to a dangerous level “groupthink” which caused them to reject more aggressive strategies in East and Southeast Asia to reduce infections.
Only when Britain’s National Health Service was at risk of being overwhelmed by rapidly increasing infections, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government ordered a lockdown. Ende March 2020
“Decisions regarding lockdowns during the pandemic and social distancing in the first weeks of it – and the advice that led thereto – rank among the most important public healthcare failures the United Kingdom ever experienced,” states the joint report of the House of Commons’ science committees. “Painful as it may be, the U.K. should learn from this experience if it wants to prevent it happening again.”
The inquiry, according to lawmakers, was intended to discover why the U.K. performed worse than other countries during the initial phase of the pandemic. The U.K. has seen more than 137,000 deaths from coronavirus, which is the second highest number in Europe after Russia.
Officials from the government said that they used all information available to them in times of crisis.
Sky News’ Stephen Barclay, Cabinet minister, said that it was an unprecedented pandemic. “We learned about it as we went along, and with hindsight, we now know a lot more about it than we did at the time.”
Families of bereavement reacted with anger to the parliamentary report, furious that COVID-19 victims were not mentioned in the 150-page document. They claimed that the joint committee was only interested in speaking to “their colleagues and friends.”
“The report it’s produced it’s laughable and more interested political arguments about whether laptops can be brought to…meetings than in the experiences of people who have tragically lost parents or partners to COVID-19,” said Hannah Brady, spokesperson for COVID-19 Family for Justice. “This is an attempt at ignoring and gaslighting bereaved family members, who will view it as a slap on the face.”
The frustration expressed by lawmakers with the timeline for a formal public inquiry into government’s response on COVID-19 led to them releasing their findings. Johnson states that the inquiry will begin next spring.
The testimony of 50 witnesses was used to create the report, which included former Health Secretary Matt Hancock as well as Dominic Cummings, an ex-government insider. It was unanimously approved in Parliament by 22 members representing the three largest parties: the Conservatives, the Labour Party and Scottish National Party.
Committees praised the government for its early focus on vaccines and decision to invest in vaccine research. These decisions were the catalyst for Britain’s success inoculation program. Nearly 80% of all people aged 12 and older are now fully vaccinated.
The committees stated that “Millions of people will be saved because of the global vaccination effort in which U.K. has been a leader”
They also criticised the government’s Test-and-Trace program, saying that its slow, uncertain, and often chaotic performance hindered Britain’s response.
The report stated that the government’s initial strategy for the crisis’ first three months was based on official scientific advice. It was based on the fact that limited testing capabilities meant widespread infection was likely; that no vaccine was available immediately; and that the public would not accept a prolonged lockdown. Instead of trying to stop the spread of the virus entirely, the government aimed to manage it.
This was described in the report as a “serious error” made by the U.K. with many European and North American countries.
“There was a groupthink about how to tackle a pandemic like a flu pandemic,” Jeremy Hunt (a former British minister of health) said. “I was also part of that groupthink when I was Health Secretary. “
Hunt stated that, before the coronavirus struck, an American university declared that we were “second-best prepared” for a pandemic.
He stated, “We know this clearly wasn’t true.”
Trish Greenhalgh is a professor of primary health care at the University of Oxford. She said that the report “hints” at a less than healthy relationship between the government and scientific bodies. Despite COVID-19 still causing the deaths of hundreds of people each week in Britain, advisory boards continue to debate what evidence is sufficient to make a decision.
Greenhalgh stated that uncertainty is a key feature of crises. “Dare you replace “following the science” with “deliberating about what to do when the problem seems urgent, but certainty eludes me?” The report suggests that we cannot continue repeating the past mistakes unless we do so.
Cummings and Hancock, both senior officials, told the committees that they were hesitant to challenge scientific consensus.
Hancock stated that he was unable to press for widespread testing of COVID-19-positive people as soon as Jan. 28, 2020 because of the fact that scientific advisors had said it would not be beneficial.
He testified that although there was no hard evidence to support the global scientific consensus over decades, he had an intuitive feeling that it was. “I regret deeply that I didn’t overrule that scientific opinion.”