A very chastening mile-stone

On 26th January, the Prime Minister told the nation that the Covid-19 death rate had reached 100,000. The loss of over 100,000 people to the virus was indeed a dark day for our country.

This is a mile-stone that no-one ever wanted to see, and the pain behind the statistic is immeasurable.

But to hear the Prime Minister go on to say, “We did everything we could,” was concerning. The Liberal Democrats have been calling for a public inquiry for over 6 months.  We need one now more than ever.

When Covid-19 arrived in the UK last year, the Government had had ample opportunity to see how other nations were handling it and Ministers could - and should - have learnt lessons from them.

They had seen what China did in Wuhan. China did not tell the world early enough but, by January, their model was available to governments everywhere. It was clear that lock-down, and isolation of cases, were the only ways to beat the virus.

South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand learnt the lessons and implemented them. Meanwhile, the UK watched in horror, as Italy’s cases mounted and the country was locked down city by city, until there was nowhere left.

Did the Government use this time to ensure there was enough PPE, or to bring retired NHS staff back into service? Did it initiate an early lock-down, or quarantine people entering the country? Did it set up early and effective test and trace systems, using local Public Health networks, crucial to limiting the outbreaks in many other countries?

No, under Boris Johnson’s leadership, the Government dithered and delayed. Many people had already voted with their feet – self-isolating to protect vulnerable family members or closing business premises a full week before the Government locked-down the country. If companies and individuals were watching the news and saw that lock-down was inevitable, what was the Government doing, other than ignoring the science?

Some scientists now say that locking down a week earlier would have saved thousands of lives in the first wave.

Once the virus really started to hit, patients were discharged from hospital into care homes to free up NHS beds. Patients were not tested for the virus at discharge. Inevitably, some were carrying the virus, infecting more than one care home, as many care workers work in several homes.

There was not enough PPE, and much of what was available was substandard. The Government procured PPE from all sorts of people, often ignoring established companies that knew what they were doing, in favour of people known to someone in the Government. (In doing this, procurement protocols were by-passed, and £Billions were wasted on PPE that proved to be unusable.)

Having gone into lock-down too late, the Government almost certainly eased it too early, and compounded that error by trying to boost the economy. So, we were offered ‘Eat out to Help out’ by an eager Chancellor attempting to get people back to work. This was quickly followed by on/off travel corridors, and when quarantines were brought in for people returning from places suddenly back on the red list, the rules weren’t clear and many did not adhere to them.

Scientists called for an autumn circuit breaker, but the autumn lock-down was implemented too late and was not comprehensive enough – there were frequent reports of shoppers travelling from Dorking (in Tier 3) to Horsham (in Tier 2) to complete their Christmas shopping – and though most people’s Christmases were wrecked, enough mixing went on to spread the new strain into areas that had low case numbers before Christmas.

Then, to no-one’s surprise, the Government opened schools – for just one day – before implementing another lock-down! No-one in Government seems to have considered how much damage this could do, despite every parent knowing that children always catch colds in the first week back at school after any holiday, and that there was a good chance of the same happening with Covid-19.

After the Prime Minister’s statement on Tuesday, Ed Davey said, "Waiting for the end of this pandemic to hold a public inquiry leaves the country destined to fight yesterday’s battles.

"Lessons learnt after the event will come too late for thousands in our country who will lose loved ones in the coming months.

"They will also come too late for thousands more who will suffer the after effects of this virus such as long COVID.  Liberal Democrats first called for a public inquiry six months ago: it was the right action to take then and that is even more true today.”

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