Coronavirus Lessons Learnt in the UK

  • 14 Dec 2021
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As COVID-19 reached the UK’s border, Parliament’s Science and Technology and Health and Social Care Committees began inquiries into the Government’s response. In October 2020, the Committees joined forces.

Joint Committee work fell under the auspices of the Coronavirus: lessons learnt inquiry, with MPs hearing testimony from high-level officials, such as then-Secretary of State for Health Social Care, Minister of State for Care, and Deputy Chief Medical Officer, as well as UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Chief Medical Officer for England, and other experts.

In total, the Committees published well over 100 pieces of written evidence from individuals and organisations. Evidence and testimony were compiled into lessons learned to date report, published in October 2021.

What did the Report cover?

What was in it? Due to timing, the published Report only relates to the first wave of the pandemic in the UK, covering spring and summer 2020, with an investigation into Government action during subsequent waves still being conducted.

That’s not all. Responsibility for public health in the UK is devolved to its various national entities. The Report, as such, focuses primarily on the Government’s response to the pandemic in England, with the following themes addressed:

  • The country’s prior preparedness for a pandemic disease
  • The Government’s deployment of “non-pharmaceutical interventions,” such as lockdowns
  • The adoption of testing and contact tracing throughout the pandemic
  • The impact of the pandemic on the social care sector
  • The experience of some communities upon which the impact of the pandemic fell disproportionately
  • The research, procurement, and initial roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines and the use of therapeutics

What accounts for divergent outcomes in western Europe?

The timeline of the pandemic in the UK matches up with that of its regional peers. And so, the Report, by necessity, delved into the causes of worse public health outcomes in the UK.

For context, France, with a comparable population, recorded nearly 2 million fewer cases and over 20 thousand fewer deaths than the UK (as of early November 2021).[i] In the same period, Germany, with roughly 14.5 million more residents than the UK, recorded around 4.5 million fewer cases and 45 thousand fewer deaths.

One thing the Report attributes these outcomes to is not doing more in the UK to stop the initial spread of COVID-19.

Cited specifically is the Government’s approach at the time, backed by its official scientistic establishment. That approach was to manage the situation with the aim of achieving herd immunity via the proliferation of community infection.

According to the Report, the approach amounted to doing too little (until too late) to stanch severe community spread of the virus. The report, here, notes that this approach was taken despite real-world evidence coming out of China and Italy that COVID-19 was highly infectious, caused severe illness, and had no cure.[ii]

Although the Government might not have explicitly intended to let the entire population become infected, claimed the Report, “fatalism that it was likely that in the end, that will be the only way that we will stop the progress of the virus” led to higher case rates and death count than those recorded by peers.

Of course, the Report tracks more than just the failure to stop initial spread of the pandemic in the UK. Stark differences in the priority given to care homes and the NHS came under sharp scrutiny, as well. How were things handled in these public health domains? To learn more, download our free guide to the Coronavirus: lessons learnt report, which teases out five key learnings.

[i] Covid case and death rates available at

[ii] Nick Triggle, BBC: Covid: UK’s early response worst public health failure ever, MPs say. Available at

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