Delaying England's winter lockdown 'caused up to 27,000 extra Covid deaths'
Thinktank says government’s decision was a ‘huge mistake’ and should be central to any pandemic inquiry
Delaying the winter lockdown caused up to 27,000 extra deaths in England, the Resolution Foundation thinktank has claimed as it accused the government of a “huge mistake” which should be central to any public inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic.
In an assessment of policy over the last year, it said delaying the start of the latest lockdown until January, despite evidence of fast-rising cases before Christmas, led to around a fifth of all fatalities caused by the virus. It said these could have been avoided if restrictions were put in place quickly enough to prevent the death rate rising from early December.
While it praised the vaccination programme – delivering jabs three times faster than Europe – and financial support for firms and workers which has included £6,700 for every household on average, it said mistakes on lockdowns were repeated “three tragic times”. It added that allowing extra deaths did not limit economic impacts, but rather increased them, because it only precipitated longer and more onerous lockdowns.
“Going timidly and late on lockdowns has been a disaster – causing many thousands of avoidable deaths,” said Mike Brewer, chief economist at the foundation. “Furthermore, delays to restrictions have meant them needing to be tougher and longer-lasting than in other countries, thereby worsening the economic damage.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has touched everyone, but lower-income families have borne the brunt of the crisis in terms of their lives and livelihoods. This shouldn’t be forgotten as we look to rebuild post-pandemic Britain.”
The report details how when Italy announced a national lockdown on 9 March 2020, Boris Johnson waited two weeks before doing the same in the UK. In September after cases started rising again and the government’s scientific advisers urged a circuit breaker lockdown, the government did not introduce an England-wide lockdown for over five weeks and this winter “the pattern of letting the caseload surge before acting” was repeated.
“Christmas was ‘semi-cancelled’, with reduced or no inter-household contact allowed, only on 19 December,” the foundation said. “And, despite still-surging numbers, a full return to national lockdown was not announced until 4 January, by which point we were seeing over 50,000 cases a day across the UK.”
Economic policy was far more successful, the thinktank said.
Crisis-related spending totalling £340bn has meant that “the worst recession for 300 years has seen the smallest rise in unemployment of any recession in living memory”.
It added: “Amazingly, household income has been broadly similar in 2020 to its 2019 level in aggregate, despite GDP falling by almost 10%.”
However it said the most “glaring failure of economic policy” was on sick pay, which still means 2 million low-earners receive only £96 a week if they are sick. This meant the incomes of people being asked to stay at home to save lives were not protected, which undermined the stay at home message, limited the effectiveness of the test-and-trace system and increased infections.
A government spokesperson said: “Our focus throughout the pandemic has been to protect the NHS and save lives and we have always been guided by data and scientific advice. In December, as soon as we became aware that the new variant was significantly more transmissible than other strains, we acted quickly and decisively to introduce stricter measures.
“This pandemic has challenged health systems around the world, but thanks to a wealth of experience, research and advice, we now have a successful vaccination programme, numerous treatments, a test and trace system that has carried out more tests than any other comparable European nation as well as a world leading genomics sequencing system to find new variants.”
source: Robert Booth