Delays and errors cost lives during coronavirus pandemic, new report from MPs finds

Delays to the first lockdown and errors on issues such as testing and care homes have cost lives during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from MPs.

File photo dated 19/12/2020 of Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (left) and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty (right), listen to Prime Minister Boris Johnson (PA)

The UK’s response to the health crisis was too “narrowly and inflexibly” focussed on flu plans, according to the study from the cross-party Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee, with former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt stating that the Government made “some big mistakes”.

In the days leading up to the first lockdown on March 23 last year, the report said figures within the Government “experienced simultaneous epiphanies that the course the UK was following was wrong, possibly catastrophically so” after weeks of policy decisions which saw thousands of people become infected.

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The “early weeks of the pandemic expose deficiencies in both scientific advice and Government action”, the report also added, with no real idea of how far the virus had spread and a downplaying of the role of asymptomatic transmission.

As the pandemic continued, some policies and controls were implemented without significant scientific evidence, the MPs said, such as the 10pm curfew which was in place for a number of weeks at the end of 2020.

In a joint statement, Tory MPs Greg Clark and Mr Hunt, who chair the committees praised the work of NHS and frontline workers, but pointed out the glaring disparities in the successes of different aspects of pandemic response.

“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.

“The Government took seriously scientific advice 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. In responding to an emergency, when much is unknown, it is impossible to get everything right.”

A Government spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by scientific and medical experts and we never shied away from taking quick and decisive action to save lives and protect our NHS, including introducing restrictions and lockdowns.

“Thanks to a collective national effort, we avoided NHS services becoming overwhelmed and our phenomenal vaccination programme has built a wall of defence, with over 24.3 million infections prevented and more than 130,000 lives saved so far.

“We are committed to learning lessons from the pandemic”.