UK's initial Covid response was a disaster: MPs' probe

MPs found the government's pandemic planning last year too focused on influenza

LONDON: UK lawmakers said yesterday that the government's response when Covid-19 swept into Europe cost lives and was "one of the most important public health failures" in the country's history.

In a damning assessment, a cross-party group of MPs found that official pandemic planning was too focused on influenza and had failed to learn the lessons from prior outbreaks of Sars, Mers and Ebola.

The 151-page study, published by two parliamentary committees after months of hearings, comes ahead of an independent public inquiry into the government's coronavirus handling due to begin next year.

Britain has suffered one of the highest tolls in Europe with nearly 138,000 Covid-19 deaths since March last year, raising questions about why it has fared worse than comparable nations.

The MPs said Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government had waited too long to act early last year.

Leading advisers had pushed a "deliberate policy" to take a "gradual and incremental approach" to interventions such as social distancing, isolation and lockdowns, said the report.

That approach had been proved "wrong" and led to a higher death toll.

"Decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic - and the advice that led to them - rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced," the lawmakers wrote.

There was a "policy approach of fatalism about the prospects for Covid in the community", contributing to avoidable deaths in care homes after thousands of elderly patients were discharged from hospitals without testing.

But the report also praised the government's rapid launch of a mass vaccination campaign against Covid-19 in December, arguing that had "redeemed" some of the earlier failings.

Ms Hannah Brady, spokesman for the group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, called the report overall "laughable".


"This is an attempt to ignore and gaslight bereaved families, who will see it as a slap in the face," she said.

The MPs said Britain had also mistakenly implemented "light-touch border controls" only on countries with high Covid rates, when most cases were coming from France and Spain.

Government planning for a pandemic was too "narrowly and inflexibly based on a flu model", while ministers and scientific advisers were accused of "groupthink" by some experts, according to the report.

Responding to the new report, Minister Steve Barclay noted the MPs' praise of the vaccination roll-out.

"But of course if there are lessons to learn, we are keen to do so," he told Sky News, refusing to apologise and insisting the government had followed prevailing scientific advice. - AFP