COVID report shows despite UK’s vaccine success many massive mistakes had already been made


The UK’s independent inquiry into COVID-19 is due to launch in spring 2022. Until then, this parliamentary report is the best assessment we are likely to get into the government’s pandemic response. 

And putting aside the success of the vaccine and former health secretary Matt Hancock‘s “100,000 tests target”, the cross-party committee’s conclusions are damning.

The government’s initial “fatalistic” approach was “a serious early error”. The test, trace and isolate system was “often chaotic” and “ultimately failed”. Thousands of care home deaths “could have been avoided”.

Many of these criticisms mirror Dominic Cummings‘s coruscating take on government failures. In May, he argued: “Tens of thousands of people died, who didn’t need to die.”

The committee unsurprisingly avoids echoing Mr Cummings’s intensely personal attacks on the prime minister (“unfit for the job”), his wife (“going crackers”) and Mr Hancock (“criminal, disgraceful behaviour”).

But they do use strong language (“serious mistake”, “major deficiencies”) to describe how parts of the civil service were unprepared for dealing with complex crises.

Matt Hancock he was 'saving lives' rather than watching Mr Cummings' evidence
Ex-health secretary Matt Hancock was one of the dozens of witnesses to give evidence

The committee of MPs are particularly critical about the operation of COBR, the government’s emergency committee.

More on Covid-19

And they argue Public Health England (PHE) was “scientifically accomplished” but poor at delivery.

Of course, those in government argue many of these lessons have long been learnt. PHE has been axed and replaced with the UK Health Security Agency.

Department of Health policies have completely changed. Mr Cummings and Mr Hancock have left their jobs.

The report is, however, a reminder that whilst the UK’s vaccine strategy was excellently executed, many massive mistakes had already been made.

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