Urgent lessons to be learnt from government's handling of coronavirus, MPs say

A report by MPs said testing capacity has been inadequate Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA

The government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak has been criticised by MPs.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee identified several lessons the UK should learn from its handling of the crisis, including the country's delay in increasing testing capacity.

It also called on the government to "urgently" build up contact tracing, a key tactic in helping ease the existing lockdown measures.

The main criticisms of the government's handling include:

  • Being too slow to increase testing capacity

  • Concerns over transparency over Sage committee decisions

  • “Urgent” need to expand contact tracing capacity

In a letter to the prime minister, committee chair Greg Clarke said: “Testing capacity has been inadequate for most of the pandemic so far.

“Capacity was not increased early enough or boldly enough.

"Capacity drove strategy, rather than strategy driving capacity.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he wanted to reach 100,000 daily coronavirus tests by the end of April, however that milestone has only been reached a handful of times.

Mr Clark also said Public Health England (PHE) had repeatedly failed to answer questions over the “pivotal” decision to ignore mass testing in favour of other tactics.

The Government’s coronavirus testing capacity has been described as inadequate by a Commons committee Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA

He said: “The decision to pursue an approach of initially concentrating testing in a limited number of laboratories and to expand them gradually, rather than an approach of surging capacity through a large number of available public sector, research institute, university and private sector labs is one of the most consequential made during this crisis.

“From it followed the decision on March 12 to cease testing in the community and retreat to testing principally within hospitals.”

He said the decision meant that residents in care homes and care home workers could not be tested at a time when the spread of the virus was at its most rampant.

Mr Clark wrote: “Had the public bodies responsible in this space themselves taken the initiative at the beginning of February, or even the beginning of March, rather than waiting until the Secretary of State imposed a target on April 2, knowledge of the spread of the pandemic and decisions about the response to it may have made more options available to decision makers at earlier stages.”

Greg Clark, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee Credit: PA

The committee also identified concerns over the transparency of its Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergency) membership amid concerns political interference could affect the guidance.

The report, based on evidence sessions with experts including Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, and Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, found the approach to dealing with asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19 was “unclear”.

People on the Isle of Wight have been urged to download and use the NHS coronavirus contact tracing app Credit: Steve Parsons/PA

It called on the government to “urgently” expand its contact tracing capacity in “order to facilitate further easing of social distancing measures as soon as possible, while minimising the risk of a second peak in infections”.

It came as Downing Street announced the NHS contact tracing app – trailed on the Isle of Wight this month – will be launched across the country in the “coming weeks”.

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