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Boris Johnson on Wednesday committed to a public inquiry into his government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic that has so far claimed the lives of at least 45,000 Brits and devastated the UK economy.
When this will take place has not yet been announced, which makes sense given the crisis is far from over. But one of the highest death tolls in the world and a series of missteps by the government mean it will have plenty to examine.
Here are five things so far that it may want to consider...
The original lockdown
The UK announced a national lockdown on March 23, the same date as Germany but more than a week after many other European countries.
Where the UK lagged even farther behind was in the introduction of even basic restrictions – it was the second-to-last country in Europe to do so when on March 16 it advised against “non-essential” travel and contact with others, and asked people to avoid pubs, clubs and bars.
What was the cost of this delay? It’s impossible to say for certain what would have happened if lockdown was introduced earlier as no two countries are exactly alike – but the fact the UK has the highest death toll in Europe and the third highest in the world suggests the effects were pretty devastating.
Last month a scientific adviser to the government said the lack of speed “cost a lot of lives” and the government should have taken action earlier.
"We should have gone into lockdown earlier… I think that has cost a lot of lives unfortunately," says SAGE member Professor John Edmunds#Marr #Covid_19 https://t.co/Uug1h8EmWX pic.twitter.com/nhHj56z5V5— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) June 7, 2020
Even more damning was when professor John Edmunds, who sits on the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage), said it would have been “hard” to lock down earlier as the government’s data and awareness of coronavirus was “really quite poor”.
But health secretary Matt Hancock insisted in response the government made the “right decisions at the right time”.
The government’s decision on Tuesday to make face masks mandatory in supermarkets has been met with dismay as the new rules, which some already see as long overdue, will not come into effect until July 24.
In an interview with Sky News on Tuesday, London mayor Sadiq Khan said the “U-turn from the government is welcome news”, but added: “Time and time again slow action has put the public’s health at risk. Why wait two weeks? Why not do it from today?”
Or as one person put it:
There are scorpions all over my floor. So I must make sure I wear shoes in the house from July 24th.— Mark Steel (@mrmarksteel) July 14, 2020
But right from the get go, contact tracing was acknowledged as an essential tool for overcoming the pandemic – countries that persisted and introduced sufficient capacity such as South Korea have fared much better than the UK.
A nationwide “test, track and trace” system with a dedicated app was touted for a mid-May launch, but mid-May came and went with neither materialising.
On May 20, Boris Johnson announced the NHS Test and Trace system would be up and running by June 1 and the app would swiftly follow.
It is now July and although Test and Trace is up and running, its effectiveness is still up for debate. Last week just 70% of “close contacts” of people with Covid-19 were being reached and asked to self isolate, on top of which the government doesn’t actually know whether anyone is following the instructions.
As for the app, on June 18 the government abandoned the plans, instead allowing Apple and Google to take over the project.
As the rest of England geared up for the partial reopening of pubs and restaurants at the beginning of July, the city of Leicester was told it would have to endure restrictions for at least three further weeks after a spike in coronavirus cases.
As well as the inconvenience, the move caused a political storm after the PM was accused of lying when it emerged Leicester had to wait days for the numbers before being locked down.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said there was a “lost week” while the virus spread in the East Midlands city – after Matt Hancock warned of an outbreak during a press conference on June 18, but before Leicester City Council was able to access the data that actually showed it happening.
Keir Starmer says Leicester's local authority had half the testing data until last week, so there was "a lost week while the virus was spreading"— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) July 1, 2020
Boris Johnson says Starmer is "mistaken" and "effective whack-a-mole strategies have been put in place"#PMQs https://t.co/wdMJe7evO2 pic.twitter.com/vM61HLK6Cf
Johnson disputed this and insisted local authorities had been sent both types of data, but was accused of lying by a number of MPs and health professionals who said that other places had also had difficulty obtaining the data.
The long-term effects of the delay are yet to be seen but while the city’s rate of new Covid-19 cases has fallen from its recent peak, it is not declining steadily, the latest data suggest.
Given that coronavirus arrived in the UK via an infected aeroplane passenger sometime in January, it is remarkable the UK government didn’t announce a quarantine for people coming into the country from abroad until May 22.
On the day it was announced, the UK death toll from Covid-19 stood at 36,042.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.