‘Failure’: Major nation slammed over Covid

These days it’s “living with Covid” but it’s been criticised for committing avoidable errors that led to thousands of unnecessary deaths.

It was the country that gave the world one of the most widely used and effective vaccines and came out of lockdown earlier than many.

But the UK has been slammed in a report from its own MPs which said the early response to Covid-19 was one of the worst “public health failures ever experienced”.

Britain has seen more than 8 million cases of Covid with 138,000 deaths. For a time it was one of the world’s worst affected countries during the pandemic.

The inquiry by two select committees of the House of Commons found lockdowns came too late, testing rates were poor and there was an ill thought plan for herd immunity which had to be rapidly ditched as cases soared.

It said there was a “veil of ignorance’; that descended over the Government which led to grave errors that were “self-inflicted”.

UK allowed massive sporting events as Covid raged

The UK recorded its first case of Covid-19 on January 31 but it took almost two months for a national lockdown to take place towards the end of March.

In the weeks before that lockdown, when Covid-19 was already ravaging continental Europe, the UK allowed two huge sporting events to take place that may have been super spreader events.

A football match between Liverpool FC and Atletico Madrid went ahead on 11 March – just as a pandemic was declared by the World Health Organisation. The Cheltenham horseracing festival took place between 10 and 13 March with a quarter of a million people attending. At the same time Australia was limiting events to just 500 people.

The report,Coronavirus: Lessons learned to date, chiefly focused on England where the Covid response was the responsibility of the UK Government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Much of the response in the UK’s other nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was the responsibility of their regional governments.

Comprised of the views of 22 Conservative, Labour and Scottish Nationalist MPs on the health and social care and science and technology committees, it stated that although Britain’s preparedness for a pandemic had been widely acclaimed in advance, in practice it performed less well than many other countries.

It was previously reported that Mr Johnson missed five consecutive meetings of the country’s coronavirus emergency committee, called Cobra, in early 2020 as the pandemic was unfolding.

He would later almost die of the disease.

Worst ‘public health failures’ in UK history

The report said ministers and officials failed to challenge scientific consensus in the early days of the pandemic, resulting in “groupthink” that meant the UK did not consider approaches being used successfully in east Asian countries to stem the spread of Covid-19, which could have bought valuable time.

Preparations for a future pandemic were focused too closely on the flu. That underestimated the impact a non-flu infectious disease might have, warning only that it could lead “to up to 100 fatalities”. In fact, more than 150,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the UK.

The report says there was a “fatalistic” consensus, accepting that herd immunity by infection was inevitable – but this should have been questioned.

“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 veil of ignorance through which the UK viewed the initial weeks of the pandemic was partly self-inflicted,” the report said.

“Decisions on lockdowns and social distancing — and the advice that led to them — rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced.

“This happened despite the some of the best expertise available anywhere in the world.”

A glaring failing in the UK’s initial response was its ability to test for Covid-19. That was despite the UK having a working Covid test, one of the world’s first, as early as January 2020.

Yet a system was not put in place for testing until cases has reached more the 2000 infections per day. Until June 2020, only limited testing could be done which likely led to a large under count of early cases.

But vaccines were a huge British success

However, praise was singled out for the UK’s efforts to produce and procure vaccines, including the Oxford-Astra Zeneca jab which has been administered to more people globally than any other.

The report said the UK’s vaccine program was “for a country of our size one of the most effective in the world”.

Much of that was due to the UK’s support of vaccine research even before the pandemic and its early recognition that jabs were the “long term route” out of coronavirus.

“Millions of lives will ultimately be saved as a result of the global vaccine effort in which the UK has played a leading part.

“In the UK alone, the successful deployment of effective vaccines has, as at September 2021, allowed a resumption of much of normal life with incalculable benefits to people’s lives, livelihoods and to society.”

Conservative MPs Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark, who chaired the committees, said it was “impossible to get everything right”.

“The UK has combined some big achievements with some big mistakes. It is vital to learn from both,” they said.

The report suggested the establishment of a standing part of government “to scan the horizon for future threats”. In future crises, those advising the government should include more experts from outside the UK

“Painful though it is, the UK must learn what lessons it can of why this happened if we are to ensure it is not repeated,” it stated.

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