Committee of MPs criticise lockdown delay

The House of Commons and Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee have jointly stated that the UK's failure to do more to stop coronavirus spreading early in the pandemic was one of the worst ever public health failures.

The joint inquiry, which began in October 2020, examined six key areas of the response to coronavirus, including the country's preparedness for a pandemic, social distancing and lockdowns to control the pandemic, and the impact of the pandemic on social care.

The inquiry concluded that some initiatives were examples of global best practice but others represented mistakes.

On the former, MPs say that the forward-planning, agility and decisive organisation of the vaccine development and deployment effort will save millions of lives globally and should be a guide to future government practice.

On the latter, the committee stressed that the delays in establishing an adequate test, trace and isolate system hampered efforts to understand and contain the outbreak and it failed in its stated purpose to avoid lockdowns. Furthermore, and most crucially, the initial decision to delay a comprehensive lockdown—despite practice elsewhere in the world—reflected a fatalism about the spread of the virus that should have been robustly challenged at the time.

MPs also argue that social care was not given sufficient priority in the early stages of the pandemic and that the experience of the covid pandemic underlines the need for an urgent and long term strategy to tackle health inequalities.

Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, and Greg Clark, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said in joint statement:  "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. We record our gratitude to all those—NHS and care workers, scientists, officials in national and local government, workers in our public services and in private businesses and millions of volunteers—who responded to the challenge with dedication, compassion and hard work to help the whole nation at one of our darkest times.”

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