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Covid response ‘one of UK’s worst ever public health failures’

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Covid response ‘one of UK’s worst ever public health failures’

Britain’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic was one of the worst public health failures in UK history, with ministers and scientists taking a “fatalistic” approach that exacerbated the death toll, a landmark inquiry has found.

“Groupthink”, evidence of British exceptionalism and a deliberately “slow and gradualist” approach meant the UK fared “significantly worse” than other countries, according to the 151-page “Coronavirus: lessons learned to date” report led by two former Conservative ministers.

The crisis exposed “major deficiencies in the machinery of government”, with public bodies unable to share vital information and scientific advice impaired by a lack of transparency, input from international experts and meaningful challenge.

Despite being one of the first countries to develop a test for Covid in January 2020, the UK “squandered” its lead and “converted it into one of permanent crisis”. The consequences were profound, the report says. “For a country with a world-class expertise in data analysis, to face the biggest health crisis in 100 years with virtually no data to analyse was an almost unimaginable setback.”

Boris Johnson did not order a complete lockdown until 23 March 2020, two months after the government’s Sage committee of scientific advisers first met to discuss the crisis. “This slow and gradualist approach was not inadvertent, nor did it reflect bureaucratic delay or disagreement between ministers and their advisers. It was a deliberate policy – proposed by official scientific advisers and adopted by the governments of all of the nations of the UK,” the report says.

“It is now clear that this was the wrong policy, and that it led to a higher initial death toll than would have resulted from a more emphatic early policy. In a pandemic spreading rapidly and exponentially, every week counted.”

Decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them – “rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”, the report concludes, stressing: “This happened despite the UK counting on some of the best expertise available anywhere in the world, and despite having an open, democratic system that allowed plentiful challenge.”

The report from the Commons science and technology committee and the health and social care committee draws on evidence from more than 50 witnesses, including the former health secretary Matt Hancock, the government’s chief scientific and medical advisers, and leading figures from the vaccine taskforce and NHS Test and Trace.

It celebrates some aspects of the UK’s Covid response, in particular the rapid development, approval and delivery of vaccines, and the world-leading Recovery trial that identified life-saving treatments, but is highly critical of other areas.

Some of the most serious early failings, the report suggests, resulted from apparent groupthink among scientists and ministers which led to “fatalism”. Greg Clark, the chair of the science and technology committee, said he dismissed the allegation that government policy sought to reach “herd immunity” through infection but the outcome came to be seen as the only viable option.

“It was more a reflection of fatalism,” Clark said. “That if you don’t have the prospect of a vaccine being developed, if you think people won’t obey instructions to lockdown for very long, and have a wholly inadequate ability to test, trace and isolate people, that is what you are left with.”

The “impossibility” of suppressing the virus was only challenged, the MPs say, when it became clear the NHS could be overwhelmed.

The report questions why international experts were not part of the UK scientific advisory process and why measures that worked in other countries were not brought in as a precaution, as a response was hammered out.

While Public Health England told the MPs it had formally studied and rejected the South Korean approach, no evidence was provided despite repeated requests.

“We must conclude that no formal evaluation took place, which amounts to an extraordinary and negligent omission given Korea’s success in containing the pandemic, which was well publicised at the time,” the report says.

The MPs said the government’s decision to halt mass testing in March 2020 – days after the World Health Organization called for “painstaking contact tracing and rigorous quarantine of close contacts” – was a “serious mistake”.

When the test, trace and isolate system was rolled out it was “slow, uncertain and often chaotic”, “ultimately failed in its stated objective to prevent future lockdowns”, and “severely hampered the UK’s response to the pandemic”. The problem was compounded, the report adds, by the failure of public bodies to share data, including between national and local government.

Further criticism is levelled at poor protection in care homes, for black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and for people with learning disabilities.

Prof Trish Greenhalgh, of the University of Oxford, said the report hinted at a “less than healthy relationship” between government and its scientific advisory bodies. “It would appear that even senior government ministers were reluctant to push back on scientific advice that seemed to go against commonsense interpretations of the unfolding crisis,” she said.

“It would appear that Sage, Cobra, Public Health England and other bodies repeatedly dismissed the precautionary principle in favour of not taking decisive action until definitive evidence emerged and could be signed off as the truth.”

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said the report was damning. Hannah Brady, of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, said the report found the deaths of 150,000 people were “redeemed” by the success of the vaccine rollout.

“The report … is laughable and more interested in political arguments about whether you can bring laptops to Cobra meetings than it is in the experiences of those who tragically lost parents, partners or children to Covid-19. This is an attempt to ignore and gaslight bereaved families, who will see it as a slap in the face,” she said.

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Health

AIDS Agency Chief Says 1 Out Of 100 Persons Positive In Kaduna

The Executive Secretary of Kaduna State Aids Control Agency (KADSACA), Dr Isa Baka has said a survey had revealed that one out of 100 people is positive to the AIDS disease in the state.

Baka disclosed this speaking shortly after a walk in commemoration of the World AIDS Day, on Thursday in Kaduna.

The theme of the year’s’ World AIDS Day is “Equalise to End AIDS: Equal Access to Treatment and Prevention Services’’.

He said the present statistics was a remarkable development against previous survey which gave 11 of every 100 people in the state.

Baka added that the AIDS prevalence in Kaduna, which is at 1.1, being a survey carried out by the state government itself, was later done at the national level, where that of Kaduna was confirmed as very accurate.

“At the national level, the prevalence of the virus (AIDS) was at 1.4 (four people out of 100 test positive), while that of Kaduna is confirmed to be 1.1, was in determination of the state government and KADSACA’s efforts to ensure minimal prevalence of the virus,” he said.

He said as part of efforts to continue reducing the prevalence of AIDS in the state, government initiated programmes across the 23 LGAs.

He said one of the UNICEF anchored programmes, which is the ‘Adolescent and Youths Living With HIV and AIDS’ programme, was present and effective in at least, 18 LGAs and 24 sites in the state.

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Health

Malawi Commences Large Scale Malaria Vaccination- First In The World

Malawi has commenced large-scale vaccination of children against malaria.

This is the first large-scale malaria vaccination campaign since the World Health Organisation (WHO) endorsed the widespread use of the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine in October 2021.

The endorsement followed a two-year vaccination programme, which involved more than 800,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.

Recommended for children from five months of age to around 18 months, the vaccine  has an efficacy of 39 percent.

The first phase of the vaccination in Malawi is expected to cover 11 of the country’s 28 districts.

In a tweet on Tuesday, the WHO in Malawi said the expansion of access to the malaria vaccine will enable more children at risk of malaria to benefit from an additional prevention tool.

“Malawi has expanded access to the first malaria vaccine! The expansion of the RTS,S Malaria vaccine, into the 11 districts that participated in the malaria vaccine implementation program (MVIP) has been launched today. The vaccine offers a glimmer hope for Malawi,” WHO wrote.

Michael Kayange, Malawi’s national malaria control programme manager, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa that although the vaccine has low efficacy, “in malaria control, there is no single intervention that does it all”.

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Nigeria Yet To Attain 70% Covid-19 Vaccination Coverage- NPHCDA

The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) has disclosed that Nigeria is yet to achieve 70 percent coverage for COVID-19 vaccination.

Faisal Shuaib, executive director of NPHCDA, said on Tuesday that as of November 25, a total of 56,790,371 eligible persons targeted for COVID-19 vaccination are fully vaccinated while 12,492,646 are partially vaccinated in 36 states and the FCT.

“We are 21.6 million eligible persons away from reaching its target of fully vaccinating 70 percent of its eligible population by December 2022,” he said.

“But 62 percent of the country’s eligible population is at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The country has fully vaccinated half of the total population eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.

“We have also fully vaccinated an additional over 25 percent of its eligible population, in the last 110 days of SCALES 3.0 implementation.”

The executive director said 13.2 percent of fully vaccinated persons in the country have received the COVID-19 booster dose for additional protection against the virus.

He commended the COVID-19 strategy group for achieving 50 percent vaccination coverage in the country and promised that the momentum would be sustained.

Shuaib said he has also directed the team to intensify efforts toward the attainment of herd immunity.

“Until this is achieved, the strategy group will continue to develop strategies that will help the country achieve health security,” he said.

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