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UK government misrepresented initial COVID response: MP’s inquiry

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Lawmakers said the government had waited too long to extend lockdown measures in early 2020.

London, United Kingdom:

A British parliamentary report published on Tuesday said the government’s delay in closing down societies when Covid-19 hit last year was “one of the most significant public health failures” in the country’s history.

In a damning assessment, a cross-party group of lawmakers found that the official pandemic plan was too focused on influenza and failed to learn lessons from prior outbreaks of SARS, MERS and Ebola.

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

Britain has been hit hard by the crisis with nearly 138,000 Covid-19 deaths – one of the highest tolls in Europe – since March last year, raising questions about why it has fared worse than many other countries.

Lawmakers said the government had waited too long to extend lockdown measures in early 2020.

The report said the key advisors had put forward a “deliberate policy” to take a “gradual and incremental approach” to interventions such as social distancing, isolation and lockdown.

This approach had proved “wrong” and had put the death toll higher, lawmakers said, adding that the failure to test elderly people discharged from hospitals to care homes also led to deaths.

“The decisions on lockdown and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice they took – rank as one of the United Kingdom’s most significant public health failures to date,” he wrote.

It was the “ethical view of fatalism about the potential of COVID in the community”, which contributed to the failures.

‘groupthink’

Britain was also too slow to introduce the isolation of infected people, and mistakenly applied “light-touch border controls” only to countries with high COVID rates when most cases were coming from France and Spain.

According to the report, the government’s plan for a pandemic was “narrowly and inflexibly based on the flu model”, while ministers and scientific advisers were accused of “groupthink” by some experts.

Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt, a former health secretary who chairs one of the report committees, said the government had also failed to absorb early experience from South Korea and Taiwan, which started large-scale test and trace systems. were quick to do.

Hunt told BBC radio that East Asian countries with direct experience of SARS and MERS responded best in the first half of the pandemic.

“We were always running to catch up,” he said, comparing the response to a football match with “two very different halves,” pointing to the rapid launch of a successful mass vaccination campaign against Covid in December. Happened.

lessons to be learned

The panel drew evidence from a number of figures, including Dominic Cummings, a controversial former chief adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who criticized his former boss for his handling of the crisis.

Johnson has also faced criticism for refusing to launch a public inquiry early.

The British leader announced in May that the investigation would proceed and that his government’s actions would be “examined as strictly and clearly as possible and every lesson learned for the future”.

But he refused to allow it to start before spring next year, arguing that the investigation could hamper the country’s ongoing pandemic response.

Responding to the new report, Government Minister Steve Barkley praised Britain’s vaccination rollout by MPs.

“But certainly if there are lessons to be learned, we are more than willing to do so,” he told Sky News, refusing to apologize and insisting that the government has followed prevailing scientific advice.

“I think there was a hard debate within government with science, but of course it was unprecedented, so it was a developing picture for the scientists themselves.”

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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