Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson

The UK isn’t learning the right lessons from lockdown

This month, the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care published a Technical Report on the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK

The report is a long 11-chapter document describing the UK’s response and pointing out suggestions for dealing with future pandemics.  

The report is described as ‘independent’, but the authors are public health civil servants and a handful of academics. Given that the authors were instrumental to a greater and lesser degree in implementing the catastrophes of lockdowns, this report is as independent as President Xi marking his own homework in China. 

It is hard to reconcile some of the report’s content with what we have written about in the past. For example, there is no mention of the misuse of PCR tests or of Britain’s failure to follow the example of other countries, whose contact tracing systems were overwhelmed in days.

There is also no apology for the evidence-free mass testing programme, the segregation of healthy people, and the lack of identification of truly infectious cases.  

The report says: 

‘Pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission, in the absence of routine mass asymptomatic testing, are a huge challenge for even a highly effective contact tracing system.’ 

It would have been better if the report admitted that contact tracing is hugely challenging, that it would never have achieved its intended outcomes and was, therefore, a waste of £37 billion. This is something health officials in Lombardy, Italy had realised by the beginning of March 2020. The UK Parliament has also pointed out that the contract tracing programme had an ‘unimaginable’ cost.    

Hospital-acquired infections are also ignored in the report. This is even though up to 40 per cent of ‘hospital cases’ were infections acquired in hospitals. The distribution of these cases mirrored the way the disease spread in the surrounding community, suggesting that whatever ‘protection’ measures hospitals were taking did not work. 

When it comes to the low risk to school children and teachers, the report portrays this as a tension between missing education and stopping transmission: 

‘In restricting attendance in educational settings 

This must be heavily caveated with the health and wellbeing impacts of limiting attendance in educational settings to priority groups – which are substantial.

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Written by
Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson
Carl Heneghan is professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford. Dr Tom Jefferson is a Clinical epidemiologist and Senior Associate Tutor at the University of Oxford.

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