The British government waited too long to impose a lockdown in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, missing a chance to contain the disease and leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths, lawmakers conclude in a hard-hitting report.
The deadly delay resulted from ministers’ failure to question the recommendations of scientific advisers, resulting in a dangerous level of “groupthink” that caused them to dismiss the more aggressive strategies adopted in East and Southeast Asia, according to the joint report from the House of Commons’ science and health committees.
It was only when Britain’s National Health Service risked being overwhelmed by rapidly rising infections that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government finally ordered a lockdown in late March 2020.
“There was a desire to avoid a lockdown because of the immense harm it would entail to the economy, normal health services and society,’’ the report says. “In the absence of other strategies such as rigorous case isolation, a meaningful test-and-trace operation, and robust border controls, a full lockdown was inevitable and should have come sooner.’’
Cabinet minister Stephen Barclay defends the government’s response, saying “decisions were taken on the evidence and the scientific advice at the time.”
“It was an unprecedented pandemic. We were learning about it as we went through, and of course with hindsight, there’s things we know about it now that we didn’t know at the time,” Barclay tells British broadcaster Sky News.