A recent revelation from the ongoing Covid inquiry sheds light on the lack of decisive leadership in the UK government during the autumn of 2020. According to the diary entries of Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially expressed frustration with the idea of a second lockdown and suggested letting the virus “rip” since most of those who had died were already at the end of their lives. However, within weeks, a month-long lockdown was implemented in England.
The diary excerpts highlight the inconsistent decision-making of Prime Minister Johnson, with Sir Patrick describing him as a “weak, indecisive PM.” It is clear that there was a lack of leadership during this critical period of the pandemic, as the government seemed to struggle to navigate the complex data and make timely decisions.
In hindsight, Sir Patrick acknowledges that the UK failed to act quickly enough during the first wave of the pandemic, in March 2020. Similar mistakes were made later in the year when certain areas, such as Leicester and Liverpool, faced enhanced measures due to the rapid spread of the disease. Sir Patrick emphasizes the temptation to implement limited restrictions, which ultimately led to overwhelmed healthcare systems in surrounding areas.
The psychology of decision-makers regarding pandemic restrictions also played a role in the government’s approach. Sir Patrick notes a trend of decision-makers advocating for measures that were “just a little bit less” than what was actually needed. This mindset, coupled with MPs advocating for their areas to be placed in lower tiers of restrictions, further hindered effective control of the virus.
Interestingly, Sir Patrick reveals occasional disagreements with Chief Medical Adviser Prof Sir Chris Whitty regarding the timing and severity of restrictions. These differences of opinion highlight the complex nature of decision-making during a crisis, as different perspectives and priorities come into play.
This insight into the government’s handling of the pandemic raises questions about the transparency and effectiveness of both economic and scientific advice. Sir Patrick criticizes the Treasury’s input, citing economic predictions based on “no evidence, no transparency, pure dogma, and wrong throughout.” There was an evident imbalance between the transparency of economic and scientific advice, which may have hindered a cohesive and effective response.
The ongoing Covid inquiry will undoubtedly continue to uncover valuable insights into the government’s decision-making process. It is crucial to learn from these revelations to better prepare for any future crises and ensure strong leadership during challenging times.