Lawmakers slam UK’s Covid response, say ‘herd immunity’ strategy a public health failure

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  • The UK government’s approach to the handling of the coronavirus outbreak at the start of the pandemic has been called one of the country’s worst public health failures to date.
  • The damaging assessment of the government’s initial COVID response comes after an investigation by British MPs.
  • The report found that the government made major mistakes at the start of the global outbreak, including its explicit decision to allow COVID to spread to the entire population.

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LONDON – The UK government’s approach to its handling of the coronavirus outbreak at the start of the pandemic has been called one of the country’s worst public health failures, following an investigation by British lawmakers.

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The report, which examined the UK’s initial response to the COVID pandemic, found that the government made major mistakes at the start of the global outbreak, including allowing Covid to spread throughout the population in order to gain “herd immunity”. clear decision. “And his hesitation in locking down the country.

“The decisions on lockdown and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them – rank as one of the United Kingdom’s most significant public health failures to date,” the 150-page report, which published was found on Tuesday, after the investigation of two parliamentary committees.

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The British government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was accused of having hit Europe in early 2020 and appeared reluctant to impose restrictions on public life, travel or borders.

While it was never formally announced, the UK’s initial approach to COVID (which went from trying to ‘stop’ the spread of the virus, to trying to ‘delay’ it) was widely accepted as ” Herd immunity” was seen as a way to achieve that.

‘Critical initialization error’

High levels of immunity to the virus in a population can be achieved by both natural infection (through the body’s build-up of antibodies when fighting the virus) and vaccination.

The latter route is generally preferred as it avoids adverse effects such as more deaths from the virus. However, with no COVID vaccines available at the start of the pandemic, some countries such as the UK and Sweden appeared to be in favor of allowing the virus to spread to some extent in their populations in order to achieve levels of herd immunity. . .

The strategy saw Covid-19 cases spread rapidly in the UK, however, with thousands of deaths among elderly people and strains on the National Health Service. The British government (and later, Sweden too, to a lesser extent) changed its stance and imposed a nationwide lockdown on 26 March.

The investigation, which included evidence from more than 50 “witnesses”, including high-profile public officials and health experts who advised the government during the pandemic, was detrimental in its assessment of the government’s initial approach, noting that That it was “amount in practice”. An unfortunate pursuit of herd immunity.

“When the government moved from the ‘containment’ phase to the ‘delay’ phase, that approach involved trying to manage the spread of COVID through the population rather than preventing it from spreading completely. This was in practice by infection. That was equivalent to accepting herd immunity. The inevitable result was, given that the United Kingdom had no concrete prospect of a vaccine, limited testing capacity and a widespread view that the public would not accept a lockdown for a significant period. Will do,” the report said.

By doing so Britain “made a serious initial error in adopting this fatal approach and did not consider the more vigorous and rigorous approach to contain the spread of the virus adopted by many East and Southeast Asian countries,” the investigation found.


The report noted that the fact that the UK approach reflected a consensus between official scientific advisers and the government indicates “a degree of conglomerate”, implying that “we are more likely to agree with the approach elsewhere”. were not as open to us as we should have been.”

The investigation, which was overseen by the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee (which includes MPs from the UK’s main three political parties), examined six key areas of the country’s response to COVID-19. These included how prepared Britain was for a pandemic and its willingness to use non-drug interventions such as border controls, social distancing and lockdowns to contain the pandemic.

Read more: As the Covid mutation spreads, will herd immunity ever be possible?

It also looked at the use of test, trace and isolate strategies and social care and the impact of the pandemic on specific communities and, ultimately, the procurement and roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines.

Highlighting its findings, the investigation concluded that:

  • “Delays in setting up adequate test, trace and isolate systems hindered efforts to understand and contain the outbreak and failed in its stated objective of avoiding the lockdown.”
  • “The initial decision to delay the widespread lockdown—despite practice elsewhere in the world—reflects a fatalism about the spread of Covid that should have been strongly challenged at the time.”
  • “Social care was not given enough priority in the early stages of the pandemic.”
  • “Forward planning, agility and decisive organization of the vaccine development and deployment effort” was a huge positive, and should be a guide for future government practice.

Furthermore, the investigation found that the UK’s preparedness for a pandemic was already widely praised, but in practice fared less well than many other countries. It also said that the pandemic underscored the need for an immediate and long-term strategy to tackle health disparities.

Nonetheless, the report also had bright spots and examples of “global best practice”, with praise for the government’s procurement and rapid rollout of COVID vaccines, which saw the UK order authorizing COVID vaccines before most countries. and deployed. to date, Government figures show 85.5% of the UK population is over the age of 12 Fully immunized, along with booster shots are now being rolled out for the most vulnerable.

‘Big mistakes’ in bad times

Britain has been hit hard by the pandemic, which has recorded more than 8.2 million cases of the virus and more than 138,000 deaths. Critics argue that inadequate response by the government in some areas of the pandemic, such as the test and trace system, which has been broken by issues during the pandemic, has killed thousands.

In its findings, the investigation noted that both the positive and negative consequences of the government’s response to the pandemic should be reflected to ensure that lessons are learned, in the hope that it will guide future responses to emergencies. can inform.

Read more: This is why herd immunity from COVID with the Delta version is ‘legendary’

In all, the report made 38 recommendations that lawmakers said could better equip Britain, including “expertise and a greater diversity of challenge” from both at home and abroad, to be considered for any future pandemic. Should be called in to help with planning.

Issuing a joint statement summarizing their findings, the heads of the two parliamentary committees overseeing the investigation said the UK’s response “combined some big mistakes with some big achievements.”

“Our vaccine program was boldly planned and effectively executed. Our test and trace program took a very long time to take effect. The government took scientific advice seriously, but the UK’s initial consensus was challenged above all else.” Should have happened, when more widespread lockdowns were delayed. Countries like South Korea showed that a different approach was possible,” said Jeremy Hunt, chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee, and Greg Clark, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee.

He acknowledged that the public health emergency was so unknown at the beginning that “it was impossible to fix everything” and thanked various sectors, from the NHS and public staff to the scientific community and the millions of volunteers, “who have responded to our most difficult times.” I rise to the challenge with dedication, compassion and hard work to help the entire nation.”


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