Covid: UK start to pandemic worst public health failure ever, MPs say

The UK’s failure to do more to stop Covid spreading early in the pandemic was “one of the most important public health failures the UK has ever experienced”, a report by MPs says.

The government approach – backed by its scientists – was to try to manage the situation and in effect achieve herd immunity by infection, it said.

This led to a delay in introducing the first lockdown, costing lives.

But the report highlights successes too, including the vaccination rollout.

It described the whole approach to vaccination – from the research and development through to the rollout of the jabs – as “one of the most effective initiatives in UK history”.

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

The findings are detailed in the long-awaited report – Coronavirus: Lessons learned to date – from the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee, which contain MPs from all parties.

Across 150 pages, the committees cover a variety of successes and failings over the course of the pandemic, which has claimed more than 150,000 lives to date and is described by the MPs as the “biggest peacetime challenge” for a century.

Tory MPs Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark, who chair the committees, said the nature of the pandemic meant it was “impossible to get everything right”.

“The UK has combined some big achievements with some big mistakes. It is vital to learn from both,” they added in a statement to accompany the report.

A government spokesperson said lessons would be learned, which was why there would be a full public inquiry next year.

He added: “We have never shied away from taking quick and decisive action to save lives and protect our NHS, including introducing restrictions and lockdowns.

“Thanks to a collective national effort, we avoided NHS services becoming overwhelmed.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the findings were “damning” and showed what “monumental errors” had been made.

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