| 8 December 2021, Wednesday |

UK government wasn’t ready for pandemic, report finds

According to a new report, the UK government was not adequately prepared for a pandemic like Covid-19.

The National Audit Office (NAO) reported that the government lacked detailed plans for shielding, job support schemes, and school disruption.

The spending watchdog added that there were lessons to be learned.

In response, the government stated that the unprecedented pandemic had tested health systems all over the world, not just the United Kingdom.

The NAO stated that preparations for a flu pandemic or highly infectious diseases such as Ebola were prioritized over diseases similar to Covid.

The UK government, according to the watchdog, has no specific plans to combat a disease like Covid-19, which has a lower mortality rate than Ebola but has the ability to spread in communities with asymptomatic infected people.

According to the report, the government had some pandemic preparedness measures in place, such as a stockpile of personal protective equipment, but it lacked preparation for the “wide-ranging impacts” coronavirus and other pandemic-inducing viruses can have on society and the economy.

On March 20, three days before the first national lockdown, the government announced the furlough scheme, which initially covered 80 percent of wages for employees who were unable to work due to the pandemic.

On March 21, the government began sending letters to people identified as Covid vulnerable, advising them to remain at home and “shield.”

However, according to the NAO report, the government lacked detailed plans for such measures.

The report also discovered that the Cabinet Office assigned 56 of its 94 full-time emergency planning staff to prepare for potential disruptions from a no-deal Brexit, “limiting its ability” to plan for other crises.

The pandemic “exposed a vulnerability to whole-system emergencies,” according to the watchdog, implying “limited oversight and assurance” of the plans in place.

According to the report, the government squandered an opportunity to learn from previous large-scale pandemic simulations conducted as far back as 2007. One simulation, Exercise Cygnus, which ran in 2016, suggested that the government consider “staff’s ability to work from home.”

However, the watchdog stated that at the start of the Covid pandemic, “many departmental business continuity plans did not include arrangements for extensive home working.”

“We have always said there are lessons to be learned from the pandemic and have committed to a full public inquiry in the spring,” a government spokesperson said.

“We plan for a variety of scenarios, and while extensive plans were in place, this is an unprecedented pandemic that has tested health systems around the world.”

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Fleur Anderson, stated that the report demonstrated that “Conservative ministers failed to prepare and they failed the public.”