Covid report is like 'government marking its own homework', says bereaved son

Lobby Akinnola's father died during the first weeks of the Covid pandemic in the UK. He speaks to ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger about a report which highlights what it says are a number of failings by the government in its Covid response

A major report into the state's handling of the pandemic is like "the government marking its own homework," a scientist whose father died from Covid has said.

Lobby Akinnola said the report from MPs, though damning, could not present the "full picture" of failings as bereaved family members were not interviewed.

“I feel some concern over the fact that even in their own marking, it’s not a good picture. I would be reassured by a thorough, impartial inquiry,” he added.

"They're investigating their colleagues and friends. On a human level, there is going to be some level of bias."

The report from the cross-party Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee found serious errors and delays at the hands of the government and scientific advisers cost lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lobby, whose father died from Covid, responds to the damning report

Additionally, it said the UK’s preparation for a pandemic was far too focused on a flu model, while ministers waited too long to push through lockdown measures in early 2020.

In a wide-ranging report, MPs said the UK’s pandemic planning was too “narrowly and inflexibly based on a flu model” that failed to learn the lessons from Sars, Mers and Ebola.

The report highlighted several issues and incompetencies in the way the government, along with its scientific advisers, took several wrong approaches managing the pandemic.

The MPs said the “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 government and its scientific advisers are coming under pressure for their poor handling of the crisis at the start of the pandemic. Credit: PA

Key findings:

  • The regional tier system was confusing for the public and was not “watertight” enough to prevent infection spreading.

  • More stringent social distancing measures adopted during the autumn could have “reduced the seeding of the Alpha variant across the country, slowed its spread and therefore have saved lives”.

  • The test and trace system was “slow, uncertain and often chaotic”, and it “severely hampered the UK’s response to the pandemic”.

  • Minorities hit the hardest, as there were “unacceptably high death rates among people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities” and those with learning disabilities.

  • “Light-touch border controls” were implemented by the government only on countries with high Covid rates, even though 33% of cases during the first wave were introduced from Spain and 29% from France.

  • Social distancing and locking down was not brought in early enough, which “would have bought much-needed time” for vaccine research to bear fruit, for Covid treatments to be developed and for a proper test and trace system to be set up.

  • “Deficiencies in both scientific advice and government action” meant there was no real idea of how far the virus had spread and a downplaying of the role of asymptomatic transmission.

  • “Seminal failure” of abandoning of community testing on March 12, while the general lack of testing capacity also meant there was nowhere near enough data on Covid spread.

  • Thousands of elderly people died in care homes during the first wave of the pandemic, showing “social care had a less prominent voice in government during the early stages of the pandemic than did the NHS”. While the decision not to test people discharged from hospitals to care homes early on was a failure and led to deaths.

  • Former chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said “groupthink” by infectious disease experts downplayed the seriousness of Covid and its potential risk of spread in the UK as an emerging infectious disease.

  • A “deliberate policy” proposed by scientists and adopted by the government to take a “gradual and incremental approach” to interventions such as social distancing, isolation and lockdowns, was “wrong” and led to a higher death toll.

  • The government adopted a “policy approach of fatalism” in which experts and ministers sought to “only moderate the speed of infection” through the population – flattening the curve – rather than seeking to stop its spread altogether. The MPs concluded it was only in the days leading up to the March 23 lockdown that people within government and advisers “experienced simultaneous epiphanies that the course the UK was following was wrong, possibly catastrophically so”.

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The government has refused to apologise for what were described as its failings, saying it followed the scientific advice at every turn, but it did say sorry for the suffering people faced because of the pandemic.

Cabinet Office Minister Stephen Barclay, speaking on behalf of the government, told ITV News that "the government is responsible for everything that happened and we're sorry for the suffering that the country suffered".

He said a forthcoming inquiry will ensure that the lessons of the pandemic are learned, "but at the same time, we acted throughout on the basis of the scientific advice".

The MPs did, however, also offer praise in two areas - treatments and vaccines – saying ministers were “correct to identify that a vaccine would be the long-term route out of the pandemic” and supported research and development.

In a joint statement, Tory MPs Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt, who chair the committees, said: “The UK response has combined some big achievements with some big mistakes. It is vital to learn from both to ensure that we perform as best as we possibly can during the remainder of the pandemic and in the future.

“In responding to an emergency, when much is unknown, it is impossible to get everything right”.

ITV News Politics Editor Robert Peston gives his take on the report

A government spokesman said: “Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by scientific and medical experts and we never shied away from taking quick and decisive action to save lives and protect our NHS, including introducing restrictions and lockdowns.

“Thanks to a collective national effort, we avoided NHS services becoming overwhelmed and our phenomenal vaccination programme has built a wall of defence, with over 24.3 million infections prevented and more than 130,000 lives saved so far.

“As the prime minister has said, we are committed to learning lessons from the pandemic and have committed to holding a full public inquiry in spring”.