No doubt Boris Johnson, with all the sense of perspective a sunny break in Marbella can bring to bear on public affairs, will dismiss the parliamentary report on the response to Covid-19 as just so much “Captain Hindsight” stuff. The government’s line, accepted to a surprising degree by much of the public, is that ministers were working hard in difficult conditions to get things right, as the whole world was overwhelmed by a once-in-a-century pandemic. Criticism, then, is levelled only with hindsight.
The Commons select committee has dismantled that cosy version of events. It is a commendably balanced report, weighing “big achievements with some big mistakes”. It is only fair to acknowledge great credit for the successful development and rollout of the vaccine programme, speeded by the interventions of Dominic Cummings and, more arguably, the new flexibility afforded by Brexit.
The more painful fact is to realise how much better off Britain would have been – how many lives would have been saved – had that same urgency and effort been applied to so many other aspects of the crisis. As the MPs point out, the very first stages of the test and trace programme were just as successful as the later drive for a Covid vaccine – an acceptably reliable test was perfected early in the crisis. After that, however, everything went badly wrong, at enormous cost in human suffering and to the public finances.
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