After the initial stumbles, Britain raced ahead in the spring as one of the world’s leaders in vaccination rates; 78.6% of people aged 12 and over have now received two doses of a Covid vaccine. But the report — the first major investigation into Britain’s pandemic response — cited numerous missteps by the government since the first coronavirus cases were detected in Britain in January 2020.
That early response, the product of “groupthink” among top officials in PM Boris Johnson’s government and its scientific advisers, failed to consider or act on aggressive containment, testing and tracing strategies, the report said. It was only in late March 2020, with infections doubling every three days and the national health system at risk of being overwhelmed, that Johnson reversed course and ordered a full lockdown. “The loss of that time was to prove fatal to many,” the report concluded.
The inquiry found that the government’s decision not to order a lockdown or conduct extensive contact tracing was due in part to the assumption by scientific advisers that the British public would not accept such restrictions. That belief was based on limited evidence and turned out to be false, as people generally complied with lockdown measures, the report said. Britain has experienced one of the worst Covid outbreaks among wealthy nations, with over 137,000 people having died from Covid.
The inquiry did praise certain aspects of Britain’s handling of the pandemic, in particular its early investment in vaccine research, including support for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that has become among the most widely administered in the world. The government’s decision to space out the interval between vaccine doses in order to enable as many people as possible to get one shot was “decisive and courageous,” and “significantly enhanced the pace of protection for the UK population,” the report said. The report’s findings do not require the government to act, but could help shape the public debate ahead of a full public inquiry into the pandemic response promised by Johnson in 2022.