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Report finds UK’s start to pandemic as ‘worst public health failure ever’

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Report finds UK’s start to pandemic as ‘worst public health failure ever’

A report by MPs says the UK’s failure to do more to stop Covid spreading early in the pandemic was one of the worst ever public health failures.

The government approach was to try to manage the situation by achieving herd immunity by infection, the report said, delaying the first lockdown and costing lives.

But the report by the cross-party group said there had been successes too such as the vaccination programme.

The vaccination programme was described as “one of the most effective initiatives in UK history,” from the research and development through to the rollout of the jabs.

The report focuses on the response to the pandemic in England as the committee did not look at steps taken individually by Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The long-awaited report – Coronavirus: Lessons learned to date – details across 150 pages a variety of successes and failings over the course of the pandemic, which has claimed more than 150,000 lives to date.

However, the group representing families who have lost loved ones during the pandemic – Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice – criticised the report for not speaking to any relatives of people who died.

“The veil of ignorance through which the UK viewed the initial weeks of the pandemic was partly self-inflicted,” said the report.

The committees said decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them – ranked as “one of the most important public health failures the UK has ever experienced”.

The report also suggests that a reported crowd of more than 50,000 at a Liverpool FC and Atletico Madrid football match on 11 March (the day the coronavirus was categorised as a pandemic by the WHO) and the 250,000 at Cheltenham Festival of Racing between 10 and 13 March, may have spread the virus.

Testing was also covered in the report, with researchers finding that despite the UK developing a test for Covid in January 2020, the test and trace system failed in its goal to effectively monitor the spread of Covid.

Up until May, the only people who received a Covid test were those who were admitted into hospital, with the report calling the start of track and trace as “slow, uncertain and often chaotic”.

MPs said the pandemic had also magnified existing social, economic and health inequalities which would need addressing, highlighting the “unacceptably high” death rates in ethnic minority groups and among people with learning disabilities and autism.

For ethnic minorities, there were a variety of factors, including possible biological reasons and increased exposure because of housing and working conditions.

But for people with learning disabilities, not enough thought was given to how restrictions would have a detrimental impact on them, such as accessing health care more generally as well as do not resuscitate orders being used inappropriately.

There was also a lack of priority attached to care homes at the start of the pandemic, with the rapid discharge of people from hospitals into care homes without adequate testing or isolation being a prime example.

This, combined with untested staff bringing infection into homes from the community, led to many thousands of deaths that could have been avoided.

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group said many people would see the report as a “slap in the face”.

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Ellie joined Gi Media in July 2021.