Public Affairs & Government Relations

COVID-19 UK Political Analysis – 19th March 2021

What went right? Positive lessons for the UK from the virus crisis.

The first anniversary of the true onset of the coronavirus crisis in the UK, culminating in the announcement of the first national lockdown on the evening of March 23rd 2020, has led to many thousands of words of retrospective assessment. Most of these, in the media at least, have focused on what is seen to have been policy error or failure at key moments. This has included the initial hesitancy to move to lockdown, then the seeming chaos in the heart of Whitehall as multiple senior figures including the Prime Minister contracted the virus and then what appears, on reflection, to have been undue hope that the situation was essentially under control by the late summer with scientific advice that a strong second surge was coming largely sidelined until it was way too late. This led to a complicated set of regional tiers and regulations devised to avoid a second and then a third lockdown in England, but which were completely overtaken by events once a new mutated strain of the virus with its origins in Kent became a swiftly transmitting menace.

All of this will doubtless be considered by a public inquiry and conclusions drawn. What is unclear is how much international comparison will be a factor. The reality is that all of Europe and almost the entire world outside of certain parts of East Asia has struggled to cope with an unanticipated threat that had the highly unusual quality of asymptomatic but infected individuals. Some nations which appeared to perform extremely well in the first wave, such as Germany, have struggled much more in recent months and now face a rising tide of voter discontent at the seemingly slow speed of their vaccination campaign.

“What went wrong?” is an entirely reasonable question to ask. So is “What went right?”. Lessons drawn from where policy, sometimes after a delayed response, is seen to have been relatively effective will shape official UK attitudes and policies from here onwards.

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