LONDON: The UK government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic combined some “big achievements with some big mistakes”, a Parliament panel concluded in a report published on Tuesday.
The ‘Coronavirus: lessons learned to date’ joint inquiry by cross-party MPs from the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee is highly critical of the government’s early response to the pandemic and concludes that thousands of lives were lost due to delays and mistakes by ministers and their scientific advisers.
It also highlights the successes, praising the country’s vaccine rollout against COVID-19 as a “guide for the future”.
“The UK response has combined some big achievements with some big mistakes. It is vital to learn from both to ensure that we perform as best as we possibly can during the remainder of the pandemic and in the future. Our vaccine programme was boldly planned and effectively executed. Our test and trace programme took too long to become effective,” said MPs Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clarke in a joint statement on behalf of both Commons committees.
The government took the scientific advice seriously but there should have been more challenge from all to the early UK consensus that delayed a more comprehensive lockdown when countries like South Korea showed a different approach was possible, they said.
The 150-page report contains 38 recommendations to the government and public bodies and draws on evidence from over 50 witnesses, including Matt Hancock who was then UK Health Secretary and Dominic Cummings – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s close aide in Downing Street at the time.
The joint inquiry, which began in October 2020, examined six key areas of the response to COVID-19: the country’s preparedness for a pandemic; the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as border controls, social distancing and lockdowns to control the pandemic; the use of the test, trace and isolate strategies; the impact of the pandemic on social care; the impact of the pandemic on specific communities; and the procurement and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
“The initial decision to delay a comprehensive lockdown – despite practice elsewhere in the world – reflected a fatalism about the spread of COVID that should have been robustly challenged at the time. The delays in establishing an adequate test, trace and isolate system hampered efforts to understand and contain the outbreak and it failed in its stated purpose to avoid lockdowns,” the findings note.
The inquiry concluded that some initiatives were examples of global best practices, but others represented mistakes and stressed that both areas must be reflected on to ensure that lessons are applied to better inform future responses to emergencies.
The inquiry added a special note of gratitude for the country’s National Health Service (NHS) and care workers, scientists, officials, workers and millions of volunteers. The UK’s daily figures released by the government on Monday recorded 40,224 COVID-19 infections and 28 more coronavirus deaths.
The pandemic has claimed more than 150,000 lives in the UK and nearly 5 million worldwide.