The first major report on the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic by a cross-party group of MPs has labelled it one of the worst ever public health failures
Serious errors at the hands of the Government and scientific advisors cost thousands of lives, according to the first major report on the Covid-19 pandemic.
The inquiry has been carried out by MPs from the cross-party Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees.
Their report has described the UK’s failure to do more to stop Covid spreading early in the pandemic as one of the worst ever public health failures.
Here are some of the failures the MPs highlighted.
Deciding not to lock down early
One of the key areas the report examined was the use of non-pharmaceutical measures to control the pandemic – lockdowns, social distancing and border controls.
Boris Johnson ordered England’s first lockdown on 23 March 2020, which was mirrored by the devolved nations.
But the MPs’ report says this was too slow and that it was a “serious early error” not to lock down sooner.
This chart shows how Covid infections spread throughout England in the first few months of the pandemic – although a lack of widely available testing early on meant the number of positive cases may not have reflected the true extent of infection. You can view a larger version here.
MPs concluded that the slow approach – followed by all UK nations – “led to a higher initial death toll”.
Professor Neil Ferguson, former member of the SAGE group of scientists, told MPs that bringing lockdown forward by even a week “would have reduced the final death toll by at least half”.
The below chart shows the number of monthly excess deaths in the UK during 2020 – that’s the number of extra deaths compared to the previous five-year average.
Failures of Test and Trace system
Another key area examined by MPs was the success of the test, trace and isolate strategies.
They found the “slow, uncertain and often chaotic performance” of test and trace during the first year of the pandemic “severely hampered the UK’s response”.
The system “ultimately failed in its stated objective to prevent future lockdowns despite vast quantities of taxpayers’ money being directed to it”.
MPs honed in on the failure to use established contact tracing teams from local directors of public health, in favour of a centralised model.
“It is now clear that the optimal structure for test and trace is one that is locally driven with the ability to draw on central surge capacity but it took the best part of a year to get to that point,” the report said.
Figures from NHS England show the stark differences in the success rates of local versus centralised tracers.
The chart below shows the proportion of close contacts of people who tested positive who were successfully contacted by test and trace and asked to self-isolate. The centralised tracers did not make it to more than 70% until mid November 2020.
As of the week ending 29 September 2021, 84.4% of close contacts identified since test and trace launched at the end of May 2020 were contacted.
Letting virus tear through care homes
The failure to protect people in care homes “led to many thousands of deaths which could have been avoided”, the report says.
This was due to the “rapid discharge of people from hospitals into care homes without adequate testing”, combined with “untested staff bringing infection into homes from the community”.
More than 20,000 care home residents died from Covid in England and Wales in 2020, figures show.
The below chart shows deaths in different settings in England and Wales in 2020.
Impact on ethnic minorities
MPs noted that existing social, economic and health inequalities were exacerbated by the pandemic.
Combined with possible biological factors, this “contributed to unequal outcomes including unacceptably high death rates amongst people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities”.
Analysis by the Office for National Statistics has shown that during the first wave of the pandemic (before September 2020), people of Black African ethnicities had the highest risk of death – 3.7 times greater than the white British group for men, and 2.6 times greater for women.
In the second wave, beginning in September 2020, Bangladeshi communities bore the brunt, with 5 and 4.1 times the risk compared to white British people for men and women respectively.
The below chart shows the rate of Covid deaths per 100,000 people recorded between January 2020 and March 2021, adjusted for age.
Praise for vaccine programme
But the report had praise for some areas of the Government’s response.
It said the vaccination programme was a success, describing the research, development and rollout as “one of the most effective initiatives in UK history”.
The vast majority of people over 12 have now been vaccinated, data shows.
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