Wednesday, June 29

“The real problem is the repetition of mistakes”: scientists react to Covid research | Coronavirus

Failure to prevent tens of thousands of deaths during Britain’s brutal second wave of Covid infections was a more serious mistake than the timing of the first lockdown, senior scientists told The Guardian, after a damning report by the parliamentarians on the management of the pandemic.

The scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) warned ministers in September 2020 that the country faced a “very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences” unless they took immediate action and imposed a “circuit breaker” to control the growing cases.

But the advice was not listened to and was only made public three weeks later, after Boris Johnson announced the three-tier system as an alternative. It was abandoned for a nationwide shutdown in November.

Several scientists advising the government said the failure to prevent the second wave was unforgivable given how much was known about the virus and the imminent availability of Covid vaccines.

In October 2020, ministers were warned that the tiered system was inadequate and that the death toll from the second wave would reach tens of thousands. Between Sage’s request for a circuit breaker from September 2020 and March 2021, more than 80,000 people died from Covid, and the winter outbreak was largely driven by the Alpha variant first discovered in Kent.

A first official report on the early handling of the pandemic, released Tuesday by MPs from various parties, described it as one of the worst public health failures in British history. The “groupthink” of ministers and scientists, including a deliberately slow approach to imposing the first blockade, led the UK to fare “significantly worse” than other countries, it concluded.

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However, Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the behavioral sciences subgroup that feeds Sage, said the government was “destined to make mistakes” early in the crisis, but criticized ministers for making the same mistakes many times. “For me, the real problem is the repetition of these mistakes. We made mistakes at first, but then we made them over and over again.

“Most of the time, there was a consensus among scientists, as there was about last fall and the need for a circuit breaker,” he added. “The real problem was not any division among scientists about what the government should do, but what the scientists advised and what the government did.”

Reicher disagreed with the deputies’ report for blaming the failures, at least partially, on “groupthink”, arguing that the phrase “set people free.” He said that “the main problem was a paternalistic ideology” that “sees the public as a problem, that sees the private sector as the best way to run the test and trace system, and does not see the value of public health globally. “. local level. “He said the same ideology led to the assumption, rejected by behavioral scientists, that closing early would fail because people would get fatigued.” This paternalistic approach, where people are seen as a problem, is one of the biggest mistakes of the pandemic, ”he said.

Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threat Advisory Group (Nervtag), said early in Britain’s epidemic, few scientists were confident that vaccines would be developed, tested and approved by the end of the year. 2020. As such, many of the early discussions focused on when, rather than whether, people would become infected.

Despite the uncertainties, Nervtag scientists concluded that Britain needed a lockdown, but Openshaw said he spent weeks wondering why politicians hadn’t decided to take the plunge. “I remember feeling deeply uncomfortable about this, thinking that they must have evidence that we don’t have, that has made them decide not to institute the shutdown immediately.”

Speaking in a personal capacity, Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of Sage’s feeding modeling subgroup, said that an earlier shutdown in spring 2020 would likely have saved more lives, but the number may have been much lower than suggested in that one. time, and had to be considered in conjunction with the impact of the closure, including deaths from disruption of health services. He said actions taken, and not taken, in January and February in the UK, internationally and especially by the World Health Organization, “were likely to have been at least as important” as the March decisions. “Hopefully, the full investigations to be conducted will look at that period in more detail,” he added.

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