Good morning from London, it is Martin Belam here. I’ll be with you for the next few hours. We’ve just published this from Dr Deepti Gurdasani, who is a clinical epidemiologist and senior lecturer in machine learning at Queen Mary University of London:
Amid the select committee revelations from Dominic Cummings, and in his recent claims on social media, there has been a lot of focus on suggestions that the UK government was following a “herd immunity” policy at the start of the pandemic, costing thousands of lives in the process. Of course, none of this is surprising.
It is very clear that this was the flawed policy of the government through early March last year, not least because it was publicly discussed by the prime minister and by many scientific advisers to the government – including Patrick Vallance, who spoke of “enough people becoming immune to this” with mild illness, to help build herd immunity.
The alternative strategy of high suppression or elimination of the virus was rejected by the government very early on, despite strong evidence from other countries around the world showing that this could be successfully applied.
There were several elements that underpinned the devastating herd immunity strategy. It was believed that infection of large swathes of the population was inevitable, and acceptable, and that there was no way to prevent it. This came with the tacit acknowledgment that hundreds of thousands of deaths were acceptable, most of which would occur among vulnerable and elderly people. A sense of national exceptionalism held by some suggested that other countries’ experiences didn’t apply to us – despite that by March we had had months to observe and learn from countries in south Asia, and seeing the devastating impact of late action in Italy.
Real-world evidence was ignored in favour of models and flawed thinking. The government’s strategy repeatedly conflated Covid-19 with flu, ignoring the much higher transmissibility, higher susceptibility, which would lead to many more people getting infected and dying, and unknown long-term impacts from a novel virus. Finally, there was the idea that the health of the economy needed to be balanced with public health. A lot of emphasis was placed on the disruption lockdowns would cause, with attempts to slow down such decisions, without understanding that delays would inevitably lead to even longer lockdowns and more economic damage.
Read more here: Deepti Gurdasani – The UK government’s Covid strategy was discredited but we’re still paying the price