A joint report on the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic response has been published by the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. The 150-page report details failures and successes in the early strategy undertaken by the Government as the COVID crisis emerged. It covers sections such as pandemic preparedness, lockdowns, testing, vaccines and at-risk communities.
Regrading testing, the report highlights the limited testing capability the UK had as the pandemic emerged, the testing targets set by the Department for Health and Social Care, shortages in the Autumn 2020 period and the organisation of Test and Trace. This section concludes that the UK “failed to translate that scientific leadership into operational success in establishing an effective test and trace system during the first year of the pandemic”. It criticises the dearth of asymptomatic testing early in the crisis, and the admittance of older people into care home settings irrespective of COVID-19 status. The report praised the roll-out of the vaccination programme, and the rapid development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
Looking forward, the report urges that the “reactive, short-term horizon of test and trace” be replaced by “a capacity for anticipation and preparation—even during the course of an emergency”. The MPs called the pandemic, which has claimed more than 150,000 lives in the UK and nearly five million worldwide so far, the “biggest peacetime challenge” for a century.
The report highlighted that the pandemic exacerbated existing health inequalities in the UK. There was also “unacceptably high” death rates among ethnic communities, people with autism and learning disabilities. Sir Keir Starmer called the report “a damning indictment” and urged that the public enquiry be held as soon as possible.