The 150-page Health and Social Committee report says the UK Government “ultimately failed” to establish a working Test and Trace system – which led to thousands of COVID deaths
The report published today (12 October), reflects on the UK response to COVID-19 – from Test and Trace to lockdown timing, with insight from scientists and politicians involved.
The overall consensus is a stark one. It seems that the UK made decisions which often clashed with available scientific evidence, moved too slowly on containment measures, and did not use existing knowledge about how to contain a virus.
The positive reflection of the report, authored by a coalition of MPs, is simply that the worst appears to be behind us.
The UK’s vaccination programme gets an honourable mention, with the authors further highlighting that the global pandemic is ongoing. Due to the crisis still unfolding across most other regions in the world, they will wait longer to make a more nuanced assessment of how the UK performed.
February was window to stop COVID
There appears to have been a chance in February, to prepare for the influx of cases. According to the Editor of The Lancet, Dr Richard Horton: “We could have used the month of February, based on what we knew in January.”
The Lancet published three key studies looking at the devastation unfolding in China, in January, 2020. These studies were an early warning against how the virus could harm the UK population, if it was able to spread.
Dr Horton further said: “Those papers were truly alarming and showed that the disease caused a serious fatal pneumonia. A third of patients who had been reported in those papers required admission to the intensive care unit. The number of deaths that were being described was rising quickly. The authors of the papers were advocating the immediate provision of personal protective equipment and were urging the importance of testing and isolation.”
“Serious mistake” to stop testing early
The report authors also agree that the UK Test and Trace system did not work. It took too long to build, it was too expensive, and it suffered from major flaws at key times that would have made a difference in containing the virus.
They wrote: “Whether because of inadequate capacity or deliberate policy, it was also a serious mistake to get to the point where community testing was stopped early in the pandemic.
“A country with a world-class expertise in data analysis should not have faced the biggest health crisis in a hundred years with virtually no data to analyse.”
The lack of data led to a misunderstanding of how widespread COVID had become by the winter of 2020, meaning that a second lockdown was delayed.
According to Professor Chris Whitty: “We did not realise quite how far along the curve we were, because we were having to use people in intensive care and who had sadly died, which is quite a late event. If we had the capacity on testing then that we have now, we would have come to very different conclusions using exactly the same science.”
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