In their 145-page report, released after months of hearings, lawmakers from two parliamentary committees said the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson had waited too long to act in early 2020.
Leading councilors were guilty of “group thinking” and pushed for a “gradual and incremental approach” to interventions such as social distancing, isolation and blockade, their report said.
That approach was marked by “fatalism” about the spread of COVID and a belief that the British public would not tolerate the rigorous measures taken in parts of East Asia, but proved “wrong” and caused a higher death toll.
“Decisions on blockade and social distance during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them – are one of the most serious public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced,” the MPs wrote.
There were also “many thousands of preventable deaths” when elderly patients were discharged from hospitals into care homes without tests, in contrast to the stricter approaches of Germany and Hong Kong.
But the report also praised the government’s swift launch of a massive vaccination campaign against COVID in December, arguing that it had “redeemed” some of the previous setbacks.
Hannah Brady, a spokeswoman for the COVID-19 Sorrowful Families for Justice group, called the finding “ridiculous.”
“This is an attempt to ignore and burn families who will see it as a slap in the face,” she said.
MPs said Britain had also erroneously carried out “light border controls” only in countries with high COVID tariffs, as most cases came from France and Spain.
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Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt, a former health secretary who heads one of the reporting committees, said the government also failed to absorb the early experience of South Korea and Taiwan, which quickly introduced mass testing and tracking systems.
East Asian countries with direct experience of SARS and MERS responded best in the first half of the pandemic, Mr Hunt told BBC radio.
“We always ran to catch ourselves,” he said. The report also found that people from ethnic minorities working at the fronts of the National Health Service “faced greater difficulty in accessing adequate personal protective equipment,” and suffered with disproportionate speeds.
MPs have taken evidence from various figures, including the controversial former chief adviser to Boris Johnson Dominic Cummings, who has repeatedly attacked the prime minister’s treatment of the crisis.
Asked about the MPs ’report, Cummings said he was working on a new pandemic response system after the first wave in 2020.
“Unfortunately, the prime minister, because he is the joke, has not pushed that work forward,” he told Sky News.
In early March 2020, Johnson realized he had given the hands of patients with COVID in a hospital. Later that month, he himself was admitted to intensive care and nearly died.
The prime minister has also faced criticism over his refusal to start a full public inquiry earlier, after announcing one in May.
He intends to launch it next spring, arguing that the investigation, with its power to summon witnesses under oath, could hinder the country’s continued pandemic response.