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A DAMNING Commons report on the government’s Covid-19 strategy has branded it the “worst public health failure ever,” with serious errors and delays costing lives.
The joint study by the cross-party science and technology committee and the health and social care committee said that Britain’s preparation for a pandemic was far too focused on flu and that ministers waited too long to impose a lockdown in early 2020.
Former chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies told MPs that there was “groupthink,” with experts not believing that “Sars, or another Sars, would get from Asia to us.”
Once Covid-19 emerged in China, MPs said that Britain’s policy was to take a “gradual and incremental approach” to interventions such as social distancing, isolation and lockdowns.
They said that this was “a deliberate policy” proposed by scientists and adopted by UK governments that has now been shown to be “wrong” and led to a higher death toll.
The MPs said the “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 UK has ever experienced.”
MPs said that while herd immunity was not an official strategy, there was a “policy approach of fatalism about the prospects for Covid in the community.”
Experts and ministers sought to “only moderate the speed of infection” through the population, rather than seeking to stop its spread altogether.
Keep Our NHS Public co-chairman Dr John Puntis noted that despite the report’s devastating conclusion, no blame is attributed.
He said: “The most shocking thing about the report is the implication that a successful vaccination programme provides absolution, even at a time when a ‘vaccination-only’ policy for disease containment is leading to further unnecessary deaths.
The group said that those in government must be held to account, including “the possibility that what is passed off as catastrophic ‘groupthink’ amounts in fact to gross negligent manslaughter and misconduct in public office.”
Bereaved Families for Justice spokeswoman Hannah Brady also criticised the report’s line on vaccination success.
“What a surprise: a committee led by the previous health secretary and which exclusively spoke to his friends in government found that the deaths of 150,000 people were ‘redeemed’ by the vaccine rollout,” she said.
Ms Brady said that the report barely mentioned bereaved families, adding that a judge-led independent inquiry, which has been promised by the government in spring, “must have bereaved families at its heart.”
Disability charity Sense said that the government must recognise that disabled people have been one of the groups to pay the highest price for its failures and called for disabled people to also be at the heart of the inquiry.
In 2020, nearly six out of every 10 people who died with Covid-19 in England were disabled.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said that the report drove home the urgent need for the public inquiry to begin gathering evidence immediately, to learn lessons and hold those responsible to account.
“The MPs’ findings make a compelling case for the top-to-toe reform of social care the government continues to ignore,” she said.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “This is a damning report by a cross-party group of MPs into the monumental errors made by ministers in responding to the pandemic.”
Scottish Labour called on Holyrood to launch its own detailed inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of Covid-19, with health and Covid recovery spokeswoman Jackie Baillie saying that Nicola Sturgeon had “ignored the same warnings as UK ministers and with the same tragic outcome.”
Welsh Health Minister Eluned Morgan said that while the Westminster government had focused too heavily on the economic impacts, Wales had been concerned with public health.
But she added that she was “prepared to apologise” to those who have suffered during the pandemic for any failures by the Welsh government.
A Tory government spokesman said that ministers were committed to learning lessons from the pandemic and to holding a full public inquiry in the spring.
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