The government of Boris Johnson and his scientific advisers made “big mistakes” in their initial handling of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a recent report by two parliamentary committees, the country’s approach to the crisis was “inflexibly based on a flu model.” Although lawmakers applauded the development of a vaccine and a test to detect COVID-19, they regretted that the government did not respond as effectively to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The document “Coronavirus: Lessons Learned to Date” is a 150-page report produced by the Conservative MPs Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt, chairmen of the Science and Technology and Health and Social Care committees in the British Parliament. In the text, the deputies criticize the “gradual approach” of decisions such as social distancing, isolation and confinements focused with too much emphasis on avoiding closures. In this sense, they point out that In the absence of a tracing to the covid-19 tests, stronger border controls, “a lockdown was inevitable and had to have been implemented earlier”.
The parliamentary inquiry also revealed that although the United Kingdom was one of the first countries to develop a test to detect covid-19 and as well as a nationally manufactured vaccine, the country “Failed to translate scientific leadership into operational success to establish an effective test and trace system during the first year of the pandemic”. One of the reasons that the deputies point out in the text is that the tracking system was only implemented when daily infections exceeded two thousand cases.
The document presented this Tuesday is the result of a year of joint research between the two committees. It had the testimonies of more than 50 people, including the Former Health Minister Matt Hancock, the Former Minister of Social Care, Helen Whately, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, the head and deputy head of the English Medical Authority, Chris Whitty and Jenny Harris, as well as other experts. They also reviewed more than 400 writings and produced 38 recommendations for the British authorities.
In the report they point out that at the beginning of the pandemic both the government and the NHS (national health system) failed to recognize the risks they posed for the social care sector in addition to not having representation from that area. “Without a broader experience, ministers lacked that important advice when making crucial decisions,” they stressed.
In this regard, the deputies pointed out that the speed with which hospitalized people were discharged to nursing homes without proper testing or rigorous isolation demonstrates this disparity. “This, combined with the untested personnel who brought the infection into the home, led to many thousands of deaths that could have been prevented,” they noted in the document. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the United Kingdom has recorded about 161 thousand deaths from covid-19.
In the document they also refer to how the pandemic exacerbated inequalities “including unacceptably high death rates among people from black, Asian and ethnic minority communities”. “We also learned that black, Asian and ethnic minority staff in the NHS, who are underrepresented in leadership and management positions, had a more difficult time accessing appropriate personal protective equipment,” they revealed.
The fatalistic approach
Legislators also concluded that the fatalistic approach taken by the government on the impossibility of eliminating the virus was not discussed until it was clear that the national health system could collapse. “Even when the UK’s strategy changed dramatically in March 2020, it was due to internal concern about the overflow of the NHS and not a serious decision to follow emerging international good practices,” they remarked. According to the report, the British approach reflected a consensus between the government and a group of scientific advisers.
“It indicates a degree of groupthink present at that time and that it meant that we were not as open to approaches that were agreed elsewhere as we should have been.”
The report also questioned the government’s “lag” phase that involved trying to manage the spread of coronavirus through the population rather than preventing covid-19 from spreading entirely. “This amounted in practice to accepting that herd immunity from contagion was the inevitable result.given that the UK had no firm prospects for a vaccine, testing capacity was limited and there was a general opinion that people would not accept a prolonged quarantine ”.
Ask for forgiveness
Boris Johnson’s government, for its part, defended its response to the coronavirus, Chief of Staff Stephen Barclay. Interviewed by Sky News, he insisted that the government made decisions to move forward quickly and claimed that he had not yet had a chance to read the report. The reporter asked him if he was willing to apologize to families who lost loved ones and Barclay avoided responding directly. “What’s so difficult about the word ‘sorry’?” Asked the driver.