25 July 2022
The Pandemic Response and Recovery All-Party Parliamentary Group has heard damning evidence from experts on how public health principles and good practice were abandoned during the pandemic, in favour of untested policies. The Group’s members are now calling on the final two Conservative leadership candidates to rule out future lockdowns and mandates.
The Group’s Chair, Rt Hon Esther McVey MP, said: “We clearly had a raft of pandemic plans, public health good practice, the legal framework in the Civil Contingencies Act and ethical frameworks to manage just such an infectious outbreak without resorting to the overbearing emergency powers used by the government to impose draconian measures. In other words, we could have avoided the disastrous outcomes we now face, the harm done to children, the 117,000 who have tragically died waiting for treatment on NHS lists of 6.5 million, a worsening mental health and cost-of-living crisis which we will have to live with for years, if not decades.
“We now need assurances from Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss that we never again follow bad public health policy, like lockdowns and other damaging restrictions, if we face a future pandemic. Will the two candidates to be our Prime Minister acknowledge that such policies and the deeply concerning use of the Public Health Act to impose restrictions and bypass the democratic process, have been a devastating failure, and that we need to return to tried and tested principles?”
Specialists from the fields of Public Health, Law, Emergency Planning and Data Analytics presented to the Group. Public Health Specialist Dr Alan Mordue MB ChB, FFPH (Ret) opened the session by explaining how the response to Covid-19 had departed from existing pandemic plans:
"Prior to March 2020 we had well developed pandemic plans that were based on a review of all the evidence, upon accepted best practice and decades of experience in managing pandemics. However, that month we abandoned them in favour of untested lockdowns, and then masks, mass testing and contact tracing causing damage to our children, millions of people with other health problems and our businesses, jobs and economy.
“In doing this we also abandoned key Public Health principles, for example to address the needs of the whole population, not only one demographic and one disease: to ensure our interventions are evidence-based and take account of both benefits and side effects: and even to collect accurate data to monitor the pandemic. Furthermore, the denigration and censorship of alternative views meant that the official narrative was not publicly challenged. Many doctors and scientists were intimidated and remained silent. This must never happen again. Open debate is the life-blood of medicine and science, it could have stopped this disastrous pandemic response."
Author of Sunday Times bestseller When the Dust Settles and a leading expert on emergency and recovery planning, Professor Lucy Easthope was asked to advise the government at the start of the pandemic, advice that went unheeded: “Managing the pandemic was not a surprise. There are a whole suite of decisions we expect leaders to have to make, and we plan for them with a range of tools and ethical frameworks, whether for flu or a coronavirus. The government was not asked to make decisions they could not have ever expected to have to make. Prime Ministers are trained on this in their first month in office.
“Very quickly, by March 2020, we swung from those frameworks to managing the pandemic, in government, in the media and in the social context, as if it was ebola. Fear was weaponised in the public health messaging, which goes against everything we know about risk communications, making recovery that much harder. Despite warnings early on about the potential serious harms that would result, in particular to children and young people, society was failed by the response. Recovery now needs to be a huge priority.”
Speaking about the departure from recognised and acknowledged public health approaches, Nick Hudson, Chairman of PANDA, said: “The international policy response to the pandemic has been nothing short of a disaster. Most of the world turned without question to experimental measures, such as lockdowns, school closures and masks, which were recommended against, never formed part of any guidelines and early evidence shows do not work. Then we rolled out and in many places, mandated a vaccine, which should have been contraindicated for the young and healthy population, and anyone who had already recovered.
“Real world evidence, such as the known age and health risks, was and is crystal clear. We should have stuck to the sound orthodox public health measures outlined in earlier pandemics, as Sweden famously did, experiencing normal mortality and minimal societal damage. Crucially, we must return to proven public health practices, stop the sledge hammer, one size fits all approach and stop shutting down necessarily associated public debate.”
Dr Robert Craig, an expert on constitutional law, provided a legal perspective: “Contrary to popular opinion, it was the Public Health Act 1984 that was actually used to enact the emergency secondary regulations in England & Wales, not the Coronavirus Act 2020 which was used only in Scotland. These emergency measures bypassed parliamentary processes and enabled Ministers to impose draconian public health measures without sufficient parliamentary scrutiny. It gave rise to the most momentous peace time ‘special restrictions’ on an individual’s liberty for centuries, and possibly ever. This raises very serious constitutional concerns.
“The Coronavirus Act may have expired, the 1984 Act has not. The mistaken decision to use the 1984 Act instead of the Civil Contingencies Act was incomprehensible. It is essential that the regime is amended to protect against similarly inappropriate use of the Public Health Act 1984 in the event of any future pandemic. In particular, it must be clarified that the 1984 Act should be confined to situations that are ‘minor in scope and effect’ and the CCA – with its far more robust accountability mechanisms - must be used for serious situations.”
Co-chair Graham Stringer MP added: “We have again heard how the Covid-19 pandemic should have been managed to minimise the short and long term harms to individuals and society as a whole. The evidence constitutes yet more damning indictments of government policy.
“I urge Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to support a return to orthodox public health policies. One way to ensure that would be reforming the Public Health Act 1984 so it can never again be used to circumvent robust legal and political safeguards. Both Conservative leadership hopefuls must also reject the calls we are now hearing for the same damaging restrictions to be reinstated. We simply can not allow that madness to be repeated.”
View the full minutes for this meeting, held on Monday 18 July 2022.