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Covid lockdown should have started two weeks earlier – scientist tells inquiry

17 Oct 2023 4 minute read
The Ivor Novello statue in Cardiff Bay. Photo Nation.Cymru

Covid-19 deaths in the UK during the first wave of the pandemic could have been reduced if the lockdown had been put in place just two weeks earlier, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

A lockdown should have been called on March 9, 2020 instead of two weeks later on March 23, a Government scientist has said.

Professor Steven Riley, who works for the UK Health Security Agency but was working at Imperial College London at the time, said that data has since shown that people began to alter their behaviour on or around March 16, a few days ahead of the stay at home order.

But he said that government action should have been taken sooner.

“My view is that the first national period of stringent social distancing (lockdown) should have been introduced on or around 9 March 2020,” he wrote in his witness statement to the inquiry.

Asked to elaborate, he told the inquiry: “Once we had lab confirmed deaths in ICUs (intensive care units) with no travel history, no obvious connections to any out of country social networks, even a handful of those would indicate that we would be rapidly progressing in our epidemic.”

He added: “We’ve got a lot of data about how social mixing changed over this period and actually on or around March 16 seems to be when everybody did start to change their behaviour.

“So I think the best way to talk about this is to say: had we achieved that rapid reduction in mixing earlier than the 16th then the peak height would have been lower, and the area under the curve for the first wave would have been less, and potentially quite a bit less.

“And the area under the curve is proportional to the number of deaths in a very kind of crude but useful way.”

The World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.

Highly vulnerable

It comes as evidence submitted to the inquiry by a leading think tank suggests that the NHS and social care in the UK is still “highly vulnerable to future shocks” to the system.

The Health Foundation said in a statement that a “lack of health service capacity constrained the response to Covid-19”.

“Without sustained investment in increasing resilience, response to future health threats are likely to be similarly hampered,” it said.

The UK entered the pandemic with fewer doctors, nurses, hospital beds and equipment compared to similar countries, the think tank said.

Meanwhile, funding growth for the NHS was “severely constrained” prior to the pandemic.

“The pre-existing constraints in our health and care system risk prolonging the recovery of services after the pandemic and, without sustained investment, leaves the UK highly vulnerable to future shocks,” the authors wrote.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists accused the Government of not always adequately considering the needs of pregnant women during the pandemic.

In its witness statement to the inquiry, the college cited confusing messages to pregnant women during the early phases of the pandemic.

The college also said that the strong “stay at some” messaging had an impact on a number of pregnant women, with anecdotal evidence showing that many skipped important routine appointments or did not seek help when they felt that their babies’ movements were reduced.

“Studies looking at the early months of the pandemic show an increase in adverse outcomes (stillbirth, for example) in women who were not infected with Covid-19, and that this could have been linked to a reluctance to attend hospital settings,” the college said in its statement.

“It is critical that lessons are learnt for the future around ensuring that the unique health information needs of pregnant women are met, and to protect pregnant women’s confidence in, and access to, health services.”


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Barbara H.
Barbara H.
6 months ago

Each and every day we realise how systemic the issues are. There is no checklist to ensure the different elements in play are all dealth with. Westminster is a total shambles and their interactions with the devolved nations and their lack of a clear action plan, has affected us all who live in Wales.

Barbara H.
Barbara H.
6 months ago
Reply to  Barbara H.

For the record, noone would have made a decision to lockdown on March 9th eventhough in hindsight, it seems like a logical thing to have been done.

Jeff
Jeff
6 months ago

Brexit government dictated the brains available, none. I have already seen research suggesting 15k deaths cos Government too slow. Many businesses were already taking the decision before the muppets in No10 did anything. Boris couldn’t even be bothered to turn up for the COBRA meetings. Then we had Delta. Boris again. But no, just look who funded the likes of Hancock, horse racing and Cheltenham any one? I remember speaking to my travel insurance company and thinking my show in London was a very bad idea 5 days before No10 stepped in. Until the Gov dictated officially the insurance company… Read more »

Ap Kenneth
Ap Kenneth
6 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

Individual organisations were acting before the Gvmt, even the WRU acted faster than the GVMT but there was no leadership from GVMT just confusion and chaos.

Last edited 6 months ago by Ap Kenneth
Jeff
Jeff
6 months ago
Reply to  Ap Kenneth

Indeed. Italy knew what was coming and tried to warn other nations, many experts also tried but they were sidelined. It was obvious the treaserery clout would be needed nation wide, not along party lines but to save lives, they didn’t have a clue. They had Carrie. They had Boris and they had Dominic etc. and people trousering massive PPE contracts. When the UK needed governance we had the worst government probably in the history of the UK and most definitely in my lifetime.

hdavies15
hdavies15
6 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

…. like vultures pecking away at real corpses the Handcock & Boris ghoul show dished out contracts to spivs and chancers who could be relied on to throw a good weekend away or line up some “fun” at a later date but knew little or nothing about product specifications and contract terms. There was a time when Wanchors like that would have swung from lampposts.

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago
Reply to  Ap Kenneth

True. I was sent to WFH on 19th March

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

And of course Rishi Rich’s “Eat out to help out” killed around another 10,000

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
6 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

Don’t forget Hunt, blood all over his missing gloves…

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
6 months ago

We would of course have served the cause of public health and welfare much better if, instead of imposing panicky authoritarian edicts of dubious utility, we had targeted the vulnerable and immuno-compromised for special measures from the first. I.e. selective quarantine not total national lockdown. ‘National lockdown’ = national breakdown, as we can still see. Quarantine was indeed the sound model enshrined in public health policy for pandemic outbreaks of disease; until, that is, some sinister promptings had us surrendered to Maoist models, which dictated the most draconian social control. Under this medical dictatorship we all suffered house-arrest on suspicion… Read more »

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago
Reply to  Philip Davies

I disagree. Fast decisive action was required. Unfortunately the Tories were in charge. Lockdown was the correct answer (although late and shambolically organised) because we did not know the lifecycle, the infectiousness or the deadliness of the virus.
Had govt followed the science, instead of just throwing money to their school chums for faulty PPE, a more targetted approach might have followed later, based on the science and not on flat earther conspiracy theories

Last edited 6 months ago by Sarah Good
Philip Davies
Philip Davies
6 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

After what I read of Sweden’s far less panicky approach to the pandemic and their national outcomes, I must beg to differ. But you of the Left are all inveterate control-freaks. Mr Drakeford, a trained teacher (amongst many other accomplishments, to be fair), was in his element bossing us all around in every detail of our lives, even when the risks were better understood and became relatively negligible. The Conservatives do have their faults, of course, as you note in your justified remark about the expensive PPE that had to be junked as useless. The Swedish way of dealing with… Read more »

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago
Reply to  Philip Davies

We of the left. Ah there’s the slur. Unfortunately for you I check facts. After Sweden’s far less panicky response (given that they were a far more geographically disparate population 1/10 the size of Britain in a nation 3x the size of UK , they reported a high death rate several weeks after that, admitted they got it wrong and went into full lockdown when most nations were coming out of theirs. At one point it had the second worst death rate of all European countries, with UK being the very worst. They recovered later on, though, after they abandoned… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Sarah Good

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