- Sage warned ministers in September 2020 that the country faced a “very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences”
- A first official report on the early handling of the pandemic, published on Tuesday by cross-party MPs
- “Groupthink” by ministers and scientists led the UK to fare “significantly worse”
The failure to prevent tens of thousands of deaths during Britain’s brutal second wave of Covid infections was a more serious error than the timing of the first lockdown, after a report by MPs on the handling of the pandemic, reports The Guardian.
The scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) warned ministers in September 2020 that the country faced a “very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences” unless they took immediate action and imposed a “circuit breaker” to bring soaring cases under control.
But the advice went unheeded and was only made public three weeks later, after Boris Johnson announced the three-tier system as an alternative. It was abandoned for a national lockdown in November.
Ministers were warned in October 2020 that the tier system was inadequate and that the death toll from the second wave would reach tens of thousands.
Between Sage’s call for a September 2020 circuit breaker and March 2021, more than 80,000 people died from Covid.
A first official report on the early handling of the pandemic, published on Tuesday by cross-party MPs, described it as one of the worst public health failures in British history.
“Groupthink” by ministers and scientists, including a deliberately slow approach to imposing the first lockdown, led the UK to fare “significantly worse” than other countries, it concluded.
Prof Stephen Reicher, a member of the behavioral science subgroup that feeds into Sage, said the government was “bound to make mistakes” early on in the crisis, but criticised ministers for making the same errors many times over.
Reicher took issue with the MPs’ report for blaming failures, at least partially, on “groupthink”, arguing that the phrase “let people off the hook”. He said the “main problem was a paternalistic ideology that sees the public as a problem, that sees the private sector as the best way to run the test-and-trace system, and fails to see the value of public health at a local level”.
Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the government’s new and emerging respiratory virus threats advisory group (Nervtag) said that early on in Britain’s epidemic, few scientists were confident that vaccines would be developed, trialled and approved by the end of 2020.
Prof Mark Woolhouse, a member of the modelling subgroup that feeds into Sage, said an earlier lockdown in spring 2020 would probably have saved more lives, but the number may have been far fewer than suggested at the time, and needed to be considered alongside the impact of lockdown.
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Source: The Guardian