The government’s early handling of Covid-19 “came out in practice” in the pursuit of herd immunity, according to a parliamentary report Britain has ever seen “.
Ministers have repeatedly denied that the government tried to build population immunity to the virus by allowing it to spread freely in the UK. However, results of a bipartisan investigation show that this was the “effective consequence” of the initial response to Covid, which resulted in tens of thousands of preventable deaths.
Instead of trying to quell the virus in early 2020 as other nations were doing, the UK tried to manage its community spread by slowly introducing social distancing measures without committing to a lockdown, the report said.
More than 50 witnesses contributed to the 150-page report, including ministers, NHS officials, government advisors, and leading academics. It concludes that:
Labor said the report reaffirmed the immediate need for public inquiry “so that mistakes of such tragic proportions are never repeated,” while the authors said it is “important” that lessons be learned from the mistakes of the past 18 months.
The bipartisan report, chaired by two special health and science committees, draws on 400 written statements and reports from various officials involved in the UK response, including former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Dominic Cummings, the former chief adviser to the Prime Minister.
It examines six key areas: pandemic preparedness before 2020; Locking and social distancing; Testing and tracing; the impact of the crisis on welfare and vulnerable communities; and the introduction of vaccines.
Before the advent of Covid, Britain’s pandemic planning was based too “tightly and inflexibly on a flu model” that did not learn the lessons of Sars, Mers and Ebola, MPs heard.
Former Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies told the investigation that there had been “groupthink” with infectious disease experts not believing that “Sars or any other Sars would come to us from Asia.” She compared it to a “form of British exceptionalism”.
MEPs concluded that those in power operated through a “partly self-inflicted veil of ignorance” during the first few months of the crisis, with ministers and scientific advisors unwilling to learn from the experiences and tactics of other countries, especially in East asia.
It was an “inexcusable oversight,” the report said, adding that a “groupthink” culture has prevailed on Downing Street that should be challenged. Instead of “doing everything possible to stop the virus” – like the governments in South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong – the government instead took a “slow and gradual approach”.
Guided by a desire to protect the economy and Sage members’ belief that the complete suppression of Covid in 2020 would lead to a later second wave, the lockdown option was initially in favor of the gradual introduction of a social distancing policy rejected, which aimed to reduce the speed of propagation and flatten the curve of the first peak.
“In practice this was tantamount to assuming that herd immunity through infection was the inevitable outcome,” said MPs, given the UK’s lack of a vaccine and limited testing capabilities, meaning there are no real measures taken to protect the population the infection with the virus gave virus.
As recently as March 12th, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said that stopping the infection of everyone was not possible and that it was not a desirable goal either.
It was a “deliberate” and “dubious” policy, the MPs concluded, and was seriously mistaken in assuming that an “unknown and rampant virus could be so precisely regulated” and “led to a higher initial death toll. than would be the case “. emerged from a more forceful early policy ”.
Officials leading the response did not question the prevailing scientific consensus that had been established in the government, the report added. Mr Cummings told MPs he was “incredibly afraid” of questioning the “official plan”, while Mr Hancock said he was “bitterly” sorry for the failure to override scientific advice.
If the government had changed course and put a lockdown just a week earlier on March 16, tens of thousands of deaths could have been prevented, the investigation said.
“As a result, bans and social distancing decisions in the first few weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them – are among the most important public health failures the UK has ever seen,” the report concludes.
It is also said that abandoning community testing on March 12 was a “landmark failure” and “cost many lives.” NHS Test and Trace was launched in May 2020 but its “chaotic” performance during the year “hampered” the UK’s response to Covid-19, culminating in the imposition of two more bans.
“Large sums of tax money went to Test and Trace, justified by the benefits of avoiding further bans. But in the end these lockdowns happened, ”adds the report.
Robert West, a professor of health psychology at University College London, said the report’s “damning” conclusions would typically “lead to resignations” in other countries.
The government said it was “obliged” to learn lessons from the pandemic and would conduct a full public inquiry in the spring. A spokesman said: “During the pandemic, we were guided by scientific and medical experts and we have never shied away from taking quick and decisive action to save lives and protect our NHS, including putting restrictions and bans in place .
“Thanks to a joint national effort, we have avoided overwhelming NHS services and our phenomenal immunization program has built a wall of defense with over 24.3 million infections prevented and more than 130,000 lives saved.”