In Brief

Government’s reliance on ‘following the science’ in Covid response cost lives, says report

Think tank finds that ministers’ refusal to take responsibility for decisions resulted in UK going into lockdown too late

The UK government’s failure to act in the “absence of scientific certainty” during the initial coronavirus outbreak cost a “significant” number of lives, a new report claims.

Researchers from the Institute for Government (IfG) who analysed the UK’s early response to the pandemic found that ministers “lacked a wider sense of strategy” and failed to take responsibility for the national response.

As the Daily Mail reports, “ministers repeatedly claimed they were being ‘led by the science’ after making tough and controversial decisions from closing schools to advising against face masks”.

Another such decision was not to test 25,000 hospital patients who were discharged into care homes. Downing Street “said it did not test them because the ‘scientific advice’ was that asymptomatic transmission was uncommon”, but “critics accused the government of trying to shift blame and abdicate their political duty”, the newspaper adds. 

Those claims appear to be backed up by the IfG report, which also criticises the government’s “heavy reliance” on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and notes that the group “frequently pointed out the limits of their knowledge”.  

“Gaps in the evidence base, some of Sage’s operating methods and the impact of politics on Sage’s work all inhibited earlier school closures and lockdown,” the report says.

The think tank “also claimed the government’s response to the pandemic had a lack of foresight”, says The Telegraph.

Although plans for schools closures and social distancing were discussed in February, the government did not work out “key aspects of making them work” such as remote-learning for schoolchildren, the IfG found.

The newly published report is equally damning about Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s ambition of reaching 100,000 tests per day by the end of April. 

According to the London Evening Standard, the think tank concluded that the plan “had not been well thought through as the diagnostics industry and the NHS were not consulted before the decision was made”.

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