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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.

Health

WHO announces global resurgence of cholera

The UN World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a spike in cholera in several regions of the world, with almost 195,000 cases and over 1,900 deaths reported in 24 countries since the start of this year.

The agency’s Eastern Mediterranean Region reported the highest number of cases, followed by the African Region, the Region of the Americas, the Southeast Asia Region, and the European Region.

WHO, in a statement on Thursday, stated that there are no reported cases in the Western Region, according to its bulletin released on Wednesday.

The UN health agency said it exhausted its global stockpile of Oral Cholera Vaccines (OCV) by March but was able to exceed “the emergency target of five million doses in early June for the first time in 2024.”

Yet, the supply of the vaccine does not equate to its demand.

WHO reported that since January last year, 16 countries requested 92 million doses of OCV – almost double the 49 million produced during that time.

WHO, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners are working together to use resources to find long-term solutions for cholera.

On the positive side of health news, WHO announced on Thursday that Chad successfully eradicated “sleeping sickness” as a public health problem.

The agency applauded the Government and people of Chad for eradicating the gambiense form of human African trypanosomiasis, (also known as sleeping sickness).

“I congratulate the government and the people of Chad for this achievement.

“It is great to see Chad join the growing group of countries that have eliminated at least one neglected tropical disease (NTD),” Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said.

In eliminating the disease, Chad joining some 50 others globally that have succeeded in this endeavour.

“The 100-country target is nearer and within reach,” Ghebreyesus, added, referring to the target set out in the road map for address neglected tropical diseases by 2030.

Sleeping sickness can cause flu-like symptoms initially but eventually causing behaviour change, confusion, sleep cycle disturbances or even coma, often leading to death.

Improved access to early diagnosis and treatment, as well as surveillance and response has proven that countries can control and eventually eliminate transmission.

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Health

Cholera outbreak: Lagos fatalities rise to 24 as Govt harps on hygiene

Lagos State has recorded additional three deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities recorded in the cholera outbreak to 24.

Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi disclosed this on his X handle on Friday.

He disclosed that the suspected cases stand at 417, while there are 35 confirmed cases.

Abayomi urged residents to “adhere strictly to personal and environmental hygiene.”

The Special Adviser to the Governor on Health, Dr Kemi Ogunyemi, on Thursday, explained that Lagos Island, Kosofe, and Eti Osa recorded the highest number of the cases.

Ogunyemi was quoted to have revealed the figure while providing an update on the outbreak after meeting with members of the Lagos State Public Health Emergency Operations Centre.

According to Ogunyemi, the rise in cases was anticipated following the Ileya festivities, during which large gatherings occurred.

“Following the last update on the cholera outbreak in Lagos, which reported 350 suspected cases and 15 fatalities, the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Health, Dr Kemi Ogunyemi, disclosed that the total number of cholera cases has increased to 401 across Lagos, with Lagos Island, Kosofe, and Eti Osa recording the highest numbers.

“Dr. Ogunyemi revealed this today while providing an update on the outbreak after meeting with members of the Lagos State Public Health Emergency Operations Centre. She added that the death toll has also risen to 21, an increase of six from the previously reported 15 fatalities,” the statement partly read.

The Governor’s aide stated that the government is maintaining rigorous surveillance and monitoring of the situation and implementing planned programs and activities to curb the spread.

“The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the State Ministry of Environment and its agency, the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, continues to collect samples of water sources, food, and beverages to identify the source of contamination. We have also intensified our surveillance activities in communities, particularly in affected local government areas, to address the situation head-on.

“We are also working with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education as well as the Ministry of Tertiary Education to ensure all precautions are taken in our schools to protect children and scholars as they return. Residents must, however, remain vigilant, practice good hand hygiene, and participate in community sanitation activities to stop the spread of cholera,” she stated.

She advised that citizens seek medical attention immediately if they experience symptoms such as watery diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain, general malaise, and fever, stressing that cholera treatment is provided free of charge at all public health facilities. Daily Trust

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Cholera: Kwara govt takes proactive measure to stem any outbreak

The Kwara Government has alerted healthcare surveillance teams across all the state’s 16 Local Government Areas (LGAs) on preparations and preventive measures against any outbreak of cholera.

Mr Gbenga Falade, the Chief Press Secretary in the Kwara Ministry of Health, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Ilorin the Ministry had also commenced awareness campaign.

”This is through jingles on radio stations on the preventive measures against the disease and how people can protect themselves,” he said.

NAN reports that cases of severe gastro-enteritis have been reported in communities around Eti-Osa, Lagos Island, Ikorodu and Kosofe LGAs of Lagos State.

Falade explained that the state ministry has kept itself abreast of news and has taken proactive measures to stem any outbreak.

“The ministry will take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of its citizens,” he said.

Also speaking on preventive measures, Prof. Tanimola Akande of the Department of Public Health, University of Ilorin, advised Nigerians on proper sanitation in the form of proper faecal waste disposal.

Akande, who is also a Consultant Public Health Physician with University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, (UITH), explained that other preventive measures includes food and water hygiene.

He described cholera as an acute diarrhoeal disease caused by vibrio cholerae.

According to him, it was a potentially life-threatening disease, primarily waterborne.

The expert stated that vaccination remained one of the most cost-effective measures in controlling cholera epidemic across the states.

“Vaccination is one of the cost-effective measures in the control of cholera epidemic.

“Cholera vaccination alone is not used for control of the epidemic of cholera,” he said.

Akande emphasised the need for preventive measures, including adequate food hygiene and water supply together with sanitation.

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