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Decision making in a crisis

First responses to the coronavirus pandemic
COVID-19 Disease management Infectious diseases Policy analysis Public health United Kingdom
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The government’s initial response to the COVID-19 crisis was hampered by the absence of a long-term strategy, lack of clarity about who was responsible for what and its poor use of evidence.

This report examines decisions made in three areas: economic support, COVID-19 testing and the lockdown.

It highlights the chancellor’s economic support measures as an example of policy based on clear objectives and developed after working closely with scheme users.

The report also identifies how:

  • The government needed to be clearer about the role of science advice and its limitations, particularly in the early stages of the crisis when it looked to its scientists to generate policy, not just advise on it
  • Government decisions were influenced too much by concerns over NHS capacity rather than by controlling the spread of the virus
  • Senior officials distanced themselves from the decision to reach 100,000 tests a day, and it was unclear who was responsible for different aspects of the testing regime, which made it difficult to assign responsibility for remedying gaps and failures
  • The government did not think about some of the most important aspects of how it would implement its policies until after it had announced them, leaving many public services, in particular schools and the police, playing catch up.
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