Delaying England’s third lockdown caused up to 27,000 further Covid deaths, a report by the Resolution Foundation thinktank has claimed as it identified the slow introduction of measures as a key failing of the government’s handling of the pandemic.
In its analysis of government policy over the last year, the report highlighted the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout and the financial support schemes that have seen households receive an average of £6,700 each. Crisis-related spending, which has come to a total of £340bn, has meant the UK has seen the slightest rise in unemployment “during any recession in living memory”, despite going through the worst recession in three centuries.
However, it found that the government’s repeated failure to lock down the country quickly and effectively resulted in poor outcomes for public health, underlining that the mistake was repeated “three tragic times”.
The government delayed shutting down the country by two weeks last March, by five weeks in September, while if cases had not been allowed to rise again over the winter break, it “would have meant 27,000 fewer deaths in England”, the foundation calculated.
“Christmas was ‘semi-cancelled’, with reduced or no inter-household contact allowed, only on 19 December. 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,” the report said.
Rather than boosting the economy by delaying lockdowns, the slow introduction of measures tough enough to curb cases instead deepened economic damage, as delays have resulted in longer and stricter lockdowns.
The Resolution Foundation also identified shortcomings in sick pay as the “most glaring failure of economic policy”, describing the £96 per week payout which excludes two million low earners as “not fit for purpose”. The failure to reform the policy has prevented workers from being able to afford to stay home when required to, the report said, adding that it “materially contributed to the weakness of our test and trace system”.
The assessment comes amid growing calls for a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the crisis. The prime minister is facing criticism for failing to launch one despite a promise to in July.
A UK 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.”
The government statement praised the vaccination programme and available treatments, as well as reiterating that “there will be an appropriate time in the future to look back, analyse and reflect on all aspects of this global pandemic”.
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