UPDATED: Commons committees’ report says government’s Covid response was “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”

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The “Lessons learnt to date” report has been published by two key House of Commons committees.

It says the government’s early planning was based on a risk assessment that a pandemic would result in 100 deaths and be like flu: “the likelihood of an emerging infectious disease spreading within the UK is assessed to be lower than that of a pandemic flu”.

It lists a catalogue of errors concluding:

…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.

You can read the full report here.

The report describes an almost unimaginable slow motion leadership crisis. At every stage the government were warned.

There was a snail’s pace response in the early months, the abject failure of track and trace and the failure to pay self-isolating people properly. The Liberal Democrats and others begged the government to change course but they refused to listen.

There were far too many deaths and far too many funerals that, often, loved ones could only watch online.

The sheer scale of the government’s failures are only now coming to light while the memories, of those who lost loved ones, are still raw.

Sarah Olney, our health spokesperson, has tweeted:

Here is Layla Moran’s response:

Updated at 11:19 12/10/2021 with Sarah and Layla’s responses.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • George Thomas 12th Oct '21 - 11:01am

    “Should the Government have unilaterally taken a precautionary view in the first weeks, despite the SAGE advice?”

    I think far more should be said about delaying action in winter time. At that point we couldn’t claim not knowing about the disease, we knew winter’s are generally rough in terms of diseases spreading and NHS pressure and each government responsible for health acted differently. I understand that the report doesn’t really look into that but it’s a report which seems to blame horrific winter on Alpha being more transmissible and not, for example, England schools going back for one day. To not act with caution once seems bad luck, to not do it in the following winter time seems awfully stupid.

  • The Guardian 5 May, 2020. “No 10’s scientific advisers warned that the government should tell people not to shake hands on the same day that Boris Johnson boasted about doing so “with everybody” at a hospital where there were confirmed coronavirus patients.

    Advice from a sub-group of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said on 3 March that the government should “advise against greetings such as shaking hands and hugging, given existing evidence about the importance of hand hygiene. A public message against shaking hands has additional value as a signal about the importance of hand hygiene,” the Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) said. “Promoting a replacement greeting or encouraging others to politely decline a proffered handshake may have benefit.”

    Difficult to decide whether that was more or less irresponsible than campaigning against Vaccine Passports as a condition of entry to crowd-intensive venues.

  • George Thomas 12th Oct '21 - 12:02pm

    Having read my previous comment back, and the report suggesting different approaches locally in England and across four nations was confusing, I should point out that I was generally in favour of divergent approaches on the basis that Scotland took action early and strongly and ended up with lowest number of deaths and cases until Delta variant when successful vaccine roll-out had happened.

    Anyone saying we should have had one approach across the nations should explain whether they mean Scotland should have taken later action as done in England (achieving a greater number of deaths) or whether they mean Boris Johnson should have changed his approach and been persuaded by the SNP.

  • John Marriott 12th Oct '21 - 12:31pm

    Yes, clearly mistakes were made, and not just by our government and medical profession. However, sections of our public are not entirely innocent either. While not foolproof in any way, I just wish that so many people couldn’t wait to abandon wearing face masks, at least here in England. The crisis is by no means over. You have to ask yourself why the U.K. keeps appearing near the top of the table of new infections. Ours seem to be stuck in the 30,000s, although deaths are thankfully clearly down. Why are so many of our european neighbours doing so much better than we are? Is it the way we record cases?

  • Barry Lofty 12th Oct '21 - 1:03pm

    I was surprised and delighted that two commons committees found the governments response in the early stages of the pandemic to have been woefully inadequate, too right they were, as I read this morning, in many other countries those responsible would have been asked to tender their resignations for such malpractice and with immediate effect but not so in Johnson’s UK where we continue to treat Covid with a certain amount of disdain, because as much as we would wish, Covid has not gone away and we should continue to take precautions.

  • Peter Martin 12th Oct '21 - 2:34pm

    “However, sections of our public are not entirely innocent either.”

    Including some ‘sections of the public’ that inhabit the Lib Dems! And who also have some difficulty in avoiding allying themselves with the Libertarian right.

    The latest manifestation of Libertarian rightism is over the issue of Vaccine Passports. Apparently the Lib Dems can’t support those because they are illiberal! There’s always going to be a level of uncertainty over case numbers and death rates. No-one wants to go back to lockdown so what’s the problem with Covid passports besides their supposed illiberality? St*ff that.

    Politics shouldn’t be about putting ideology over people’s lives. Even if it turns out that we don’t go back into lockdown it was still the wrong move not to have had them in England. The vaccination rate will be lower and the death toll higher as a consequence.

  • Barry Lofty 12th Oct '21 - 3:19pm

    Never mind what sections of public think of vaccine passports it does not excuse this governments handling of the pandemic!! Personally I see nothing wrong in vaccine passports if it helps eradicate Covid!

  • Martin Frost 13th Oct '21 - 11:07am

    I hold no brief for Boris Johnson’s Government but I reject the idea that thousands of people could have been saved from dying if “we had locked down earlier”. The only scientists who make this claim are the zero-covid zealots who appear to have more faith in lockdowns than the vaccination programme. Even if lockdowns were able to reduce infection spread significantly, it was too late to do anything about it in March 2020 because the virus had already been circulating around the world (courtesy of the China cover up) since @ November 2019. UK lockdowns were never going to be effective because it was only really the middle classes who stayed at home. Front line workers (through no fault of their own) carried on working and spreading the virus. I am embarassed that the Lib Dems have associated themselves with the Hunt report. Yes,there are lessons to be learned but they have nothing to do with the timings of lockdowns and circuit breakers . Future emergency preparedness plans need to examine ICU capacity, keeping hospitals and care homes free of covid, and IF alerted about any new threat, introduce test and trace at ports and airports only. Turning a society upside down for no discernable benefit and embracing a blame culture is not helpful to anybody. Only Sweden, which also made errors, held its nerve. That is the real lesson of the pandemic.

  • And still the Tories are way ahead in the polls:

    YouGov Poll 10-12 Oct

    CON: 41% (+2)
    LAB: 31% (-)
    LDEM: 9% (-)
    GRN: 8% (-1)
    REFUK: 4%: (-)

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