Source >> COVID Action
After last week’s revelations from the UK COVID-19 Inquiry, the COVID Action UK campaign calls for the press to ask the Government if it is still official policy to assume that “COVID is just nature’s way of dealing with old people”, and if so, is that guiding their current approach to the ongoing pandemic?
The UK COVID-19 Inquiry, chaired by Baroness Hallett, has been examining the UK’s planning for a pandemic and the state of the healthcare system when COVID struck. The inquiry has heard from 69 witnesses, including former and current politicians, civil servants, scientists and other experts, and is expected to produce an interim report in 2024.
The inquiry has so far revealed several failures and shortcomings in the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as:
- The government was too focused on the risk of a flu pandemic and did not consider the possibility of other types of viruses, such as coronaviruses, with different characteristics and transmission rates.
- The government did not learn from the experiences of Asian countries, such as Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, which had dealt with previous outbreaks of Sars and Mers and had implemented faster and more effective contact-tracing and quarantine policies.
- The government did not act with sufficient speed and urgency in the early months of 2020, when the virus emerged in China, and instead relied on assumptions that COVID could not be contained or stopped.
- The government did not follow through on the recommendations of a mock-up training exercise in 2016, codenamed Exercise Alice, which simulated a major outbreak of the Mers virus and advised to scale up testing capacity and examine different options for isolation.
The inquiry has also heard from Dominic Cummings, the former chief adviser to Boris Johnson, who gave a scathing account of the government’s handling of the pandemic. Mr Cummings accused the government of being in “chaos” and “disaster” when COVID hit, and of neglecting the impact on vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and ethnic minorities. He also claimed that Mr Johnson was influenced by the media and his party to avoid lockdowns, and that he made insensitive remarks about letting old people die of COVID. Patrick Vallance’s diary in December 2020 made the claim that Johnson said that a lot of his party “thinks the whole thing is pathetic and COVID is just nature’s way of dealing with old people – and I [Boris] am not entirely sure I disagree with them.” Mr Cummings also defended his own controversial actions, such as his trip to Durham during lockdown, and his role in making Mr Johnson prime minister.
The inquiry has also highlighted some of the lessons learned and the challenges faced by the UK in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as:
- The impact of COVID-19 on the elderly and vulnerable groups, who had a 10,000-times greater risk of dying than those under 15, and the need to protect them from the virus.
- The emergence of long COVID, a condition that affects around 2.2 million people in the UK, and the need to understand its causes, symptoms and treatments.
- The importance of clear and consistent communication and guidance from the government and the scientific community to the public and the media, and the need to avoid confusion and misinformation.
- The role of international cooperation and collaboration in sharing data, information and resources, and the need to improve the global preparedness and response to future pandemics.
The inquiry will continue to hear evidence from more witnesses and examine other aspects of the UK’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the impact of lockdowns, the vaccination programme, the economic and social consequences, and the ethical and legal issues involved. The inquiry aims to provide a comprehensive and independent account of what happened and why, and to make recommendations for improving the UK’s resilience and readiness for future pandemics.
Charles Persinger, a member of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families For Justice and the COVID Action UK Steering Committee said: “Judging from the contempt shown within the government and civil service towards each other, just imagine the contempt they had – or indeed still have – for the public.”
We repeat our call for the press to ask the Government if it is still official policy to assume that “COVID is just nature’s way of dealing with old people”, and if so, is that guiding their current approach to the ongoing pandemic?
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