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Report on the UK early 2020 COVID-19 response

Chester, UK: Jun 14, 2020: A general street scene of Chester City centre showing some traffic & pedestrian restrictions which have been put in place to allow social distancing due to Covid-19 pandemic

The results of the UK parliamentary inquiry into the March 2020 response to the pandemic are out this morning. It will take a while to read, analyse, and properly respond to the analysis, but I want to make one quick point.

Although there were clearly mistakes made in early 2020 and I did not at the time agree with what Her Majesty Government was doing, I can give them the benefit of doubt for this part of the pandemic. It was clearly making decisions in face of extreme uncertainty, whereby not only the model outputs were fuzzy, but the parameters or even critical assumptions were not clear.

We definitely should have protected the care homes more and block the travel better, but I can – perhaps only just – understand the decision to delay the lockdowns and – perhaps even more reluctantly – accept the arguments for “flattening the second curve”.

Instead, I consider the response later in 2020 and in early 2021 as being particularly wrong. By that time we already knew the virus pretty well even if we were at times surprised by the rise of variants of concern. The recommendations to protect borders and to lock down early were clear and the public was still willing to accept the measures. The vaccines were being tested and showing some promise.

Yet, the government decided not to implement the lockdown and decided to allow international travel, made a hash of testing, and failed to protect care homes again. We are still paying the price.