Oct 12, 2021 - World

U.K. COVID lockdown delay cost thousands of lives, report finds

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The delay of the U.K.'s first coronavirus lockdown and the government's failure to prioritize social care is one of the country's worst "public health failures" and led to thousands of avoidable deaths, British lawmakers said in a report Tuesday.

Driving the news: The inquiry was aimed at discovering why the U.K. "did significantly worse in terms of covid deaths than many countries" in the early days of the pandemic, according to the the report, compiled by the Health and Social Care Committee.

What they're saying: "When the Government moved from the ‘contain’ stage to the ‘delay’ stage, that approach involved trying to manage the spread of covid through the population rather than to stop it spreading altogether," the report said.

  • "The UK, along with many other countries in Europe and North America made a serious early error in adopting this fatalistic approach and not considering a more emphatic and rigorous approach to stopping the spread of the virus as adopted by many East and South East Asian countries," it added.
  • "The fact that the UK approach reflected a consensus between official scientific advisers and the Government indicates a degree of groupthink that was present at the time which meant we were not as open to approaches being taken elsewhere as we should have been."
  • While criticizing early pandemic-related policies, the report also praised the U.K.'s vaccine rollout, saying that it was "one of the most effective in Europe and, for a country of our size, one of the most effective in the world."

The big picture: The U.K. has reported more than 8.2 million COVID-19 cases and over 138,160 deaths, per Johns Hopkins University data.

  • Responding to questions about the report, Cabinet minister Stephen Barclay told Sky News that the government "did take decisions to move quickly."
  • "We followed, throughout, the scientific advice. We got the vaccine deployed extremely quickly, we protected our NHS from the surge of cases," Barclay said when asked if the government would apologize.
  • He said he hadn't read the report yet, but added: “Of course there are going to be lessons to learn, that’s why we’ve committed to an inquiry, but the government took decisions at the time based on the scientific advice it received, but those scientists themselves were operating in a very new environment.”

The bottom line: "Decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic ... rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced," the report said.

  • "Painful though it is, the U.K. must learn what lessons it can of why this happened if we are to ensure it is not repeated."
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