This time last year – a timeline of failure leading to unnecessary deaths

As Simon Jupp MP takes to the media to say that after a year with our freedoms curtailed, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, let us reflect what an expensive shambles this year has been.

Had the Government continued with its policy of turning to consultants, rather than use existing public sector expertise, Owl doubts that there would be anything to celebrate except more failed moonshots and dud silver bullet “game changers”. 

Boris Johnson show his true mettle

Selected extracts from: covering just the first six weeks of the emerging pandemic

 Jan 23 

 Johnson skips first Cobra meeting on the crisis

“The committee – which includes ministers, intelligence chiefs and military generals – gathers at moments of great peril such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters and other threats to the nation and is normally chaired by the prime minister.” (Sunday Times)

January to March: Government fails to check or quarantine airport arrivals.

Fewer than 300 people out of the 18.1 million who entered the UK in the three months prior to the coronavirus lockdown were formally quarantined. The number of potentially infected individuals entering the UK from coronavirus-affected countries in that period is thought to be in the tens of thousands. (Guardian)

Jan 29 

Johnson misses second Cobra meeting on the virus


Feb 5

Johnson misses third Cobra virus meeting

Feb 11 

Government ignores recommendation to close pubs and restaurants to stop the spread of the virus

“Stopping all leisure activities, including public gatherings such as at bars and restaurants, would be expected to have a much larger effect on the population-level spread of the epidemic,” a report from government scientists states. The findings will be presented the next day at a Cobra meeting which Boris Johnson will fail to attend. (Government website)

As the danger grows, Johnson urges Britons to remain “confident and calm”
(ITV News)

Feb 12 

Johnson skips fourth Cobra meeting

A report from government scientists is presented, suggesting closing bars and restaurants could have a significant impact in stopping the spread of the virus. The Prime Minister is yet to attend a single meeting of the coronavirus emergency response committee. (Spectator)

MI5 implements pandemic plan

Sir Andrew Parker, then MI5 chief, enacts the Security Service’s pandemic plan. Parker is believed to have taken the decision immediately after hearing the grim Covid-19 prognosis from government scientists at a February Cobra meeting. (The Times)

Feb 14  

PM retreats for a ‘working holiday’

The PM decamps for a fortnight to Chevening, Kent. Despite the UK raising the official threat level to ‘moderate’ and NHS England declaring a Level 4 Critical Incident at the end of January, aides are told to keep Johnson’s briefing notes short. It will later emerge that much of Johnson’s time was spent reaching a divorce settlement, to pave the way for the announcement that he and his new partner are now engaged and expecting a baby. (Sunday Times)

 Feb 18 

Johnson skips fifth coronavirus Cobra meeting (Spectator)

Mid February: “There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning”

Looking back at this time, a Senior Downing St adviser will later say: “There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there. And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was… like people feared he would be.” (Sunday Times)

Feb 24 

Johnson emerges from his ‘working holiday’ and returns to Downing Street (Mirror)

Feb 26 

Closing schools could help stop spread of virus, government scientists advise

A paper from government scientists advises that a combination of measures including school closures, home isolation and voluntary household quarantine could substantially reduce the peak of the virus. (Government website)

“Herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”

A summary of how Dominic Cummings described the Government’s strategy, according to a witness who later spoke to the Sunday Times. He denies it. (Sunday Times)

Feb 29 

First recorded transmission of the disease on UK soil (Times)

NHS bosses warn of PPE shortage and “nightmare”

In 2019, the Government’s own National Security Risk Assessment warned of the severe risk from a coronavirus pandemic. The Government failed to heed even basic recommended preparations. Instead, Brexit preparations took priority over training key workers for a pandemic, and emergency PPE stockpiles severely dwindled or went out of date following years of austerity cuts. (Sunday Times)

Johnson retreats to Chequers to announce engagement and fiancé’s pregnancy

Johnson says the virus is likely to “spread a bit more” in the UK

March 2

Government’s own scientists say more than half a million Britons could die if virus is left unrestrained (Reuters)

PM finally attends a coronavirus Cobra meeting

Chairing his first Cobra meeting about the disease, the PM is confronted with estimates of half a million deaths in the UK. Despite these chilling warnings from its own pandemic modelling panel, the Government declines another opportunity to join EU countries jointly buying essential PPE, including overalls, gloves and face masks. (Sky News)

Johnson tells the country we are “very, very well-prepared”

As chronic PPE shortages and other failures will soon reveal, Britain is not in fact prepared. (Sky News)

March 3

The total number of coronavirus cases now recorded in mainland China reaches 80,026, with 2,943 deaths (Guardian)

March 4 

Government stops providing daily updates on Covid-19 cases

Following a 70% spike in coronavirus cases in the UK, the Government stops providing daily updates on cases – instead moving to weekly updates. Ministers will later U-turn amid accusations it is withholding vital information. (Guardian)

Greece closes its schools, following in the paths of Iran and Italy

March 5

Larger public gatherings at Greek theatres, cinemas, museums and sports events have been cancelled in three western regions of the country. The Greeks will later be lauded for successfully suppressing the virus through early action. (Guardian)

March 7 

The Prime Minister joins 82,000 at Six Nations rugby match

In the absence of clear government direction many major organisations, businesses and sporting bodies have cancelled events or implemented urgent action plans. Meanwhile Boris Johnson takes his pregnant fiancé to Twickenham. (Express)

March 9 

France bans large events and begins stricter distancing measures (New York Times)

Ireland cancels St Patrick’s Day parades (BBC News)

Government ignores advice to abandon ‘mitigation’ approach and lockdown

A paper prepared for a scientific committee advising the government’s coronavirus strategy calls in stark terms for a lockdown: a full two weeks before lockdown is implemented. (Channel 4 News)

“No rationale” for cancelling sporting events, says UK Government (BBC News)

10 – 13 March: Cheltenham Festival goes ahead with more than a quarter of a million people attending

The festival organisers cite Johnson’s attendance at the rugby three days earlier as part of their rationale for going ahead. Data will later reveal a spike in cases in the region after the event. (Guardian)

March 11 

WHO declares global pandemic
Italy reaches 827 deaths, with over 12,000 confirmed cases. (BBC News)

Madrid becomes the centre of Spain’s coronavirus crisis, closing schools
With over 1,600 cases confirmed, Madrid’s regional government announces the closure of all nurseries, schools, universities and cultural institutions. (Guardian)

Johnson allows 3,000 Atletico Madrid fans to fly to Liverpool

UK government allows the Champions League match between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid to go ahead, seeing 3,000 football fans travel from Madrid to Merseyside. 52,000 people attend the match. An investigation will later be launched into a regional spike in cases. (Guardian)

March 12

Government briefs ITV’s Robert Peston that herd immunity is the strategy

Following a briefing from a Government source Peston writes: “The strategy of the British government… is to allow the virus to pass through the entire population so that we acquire herd immunity.” (ITV News)

Mass testing and contact tracing stopped

UK Government sharply departs from the course of action adopted by Germany and South Korea. At this point the UK has seen 10 deaths and 590 confirmed cases. “If we hadn’t stopped it on 12 March, our epidemic would have been much less,” professor of global health Anthony Costello will later say. According to the Royal Society of Medicine’s Gabriel Scally: “Abandoning testing gave the virus the green light to spread uncontrollably.” (Bloomberg)

UK Government’s plan is projected to kill 250k people

The Government is presented with “shattering” findings from Imperial College modelling. Untrammelled, the virus could kill half a million people. The Government’s herd immunity plan is projected to kill a quarter of a million. It is critical that action is taken urgently to suppress the virus. Instead it will be a further 11 days before Johnson introduces a lockdown. (Sunday Times)

Imposing a national lockdown one week earlier would have saved 21,000 lives during the first wave of Covid-19, new analysis has found, confirming that the Government’s dithering had deadly consequences. 

Sadly this dithering was to be repeated – Owl