Britain’s failure to learn the hard lessons of its first Covid surge is a disaster | William Hanage

Despite now having evidence that test and trace is the only way to fight the virus, the UK has lost control at the crucial moment

• Dr William Hanage is professor of the evolution and epidemiology of infectious disease at Harvard

Britain is in the grip of an extraordinarily dangerous outbreak of forgetfulness. During the spring, more than 50,000 people died – far more than the yearly total for any flu outbreak in living memory. Deaths are, sadly, an expected outcome of any pandemic. But this experience is also an opportunity to learn – assuming governments are willing to do so.

Since the first outbreaks of Covid-19 early in the year, scientists and governments have learned a lot about the virus. They’ve learned that the best way to fight it is through testing, tracing and isolating – and they’ve learned what the consequences of not fighting it can be. But the UK seems to be ignoring most of these hard lessons. Instead of evidence-based policy, its response – initially urging people back into offices, outsourcing testing and tracing to corporate giants, and opting for half-measures in the face of a virulent second wave – looks more like policy-based evidence.

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