A new inquiry by the charity Sense about Science, which aims to improve the use of science in public policy, claims that the U.K. government’s top-down attitude to the COVID-19 pandemic may have hindered the public’s ability to respond, and even caused unnecessary harm.
The inquiry used testimony from expert witnesses combined with new population surveys to analyze the impact of the government’s approach and communications during the pandemic. It found that, rather than empowering individuals to make sensible decisions based on risk and knowledge about the pandemic, the government instead chose to focus on simplistic slogans, such as “hands, face, space” and stringent universal rules.
By focusing on such paternalistic messaging, the government at times misled the public, for example leading people to believe that their risk of infection was higher than it actually was (the inquiry notes this is particularly true of children and the young.) In an attempt to increase compliance with the rules—even after evidence showed a huge disparity in risk for different age groups—the government continued to imply that COVID-19 didn’t discriminate.
This meant that groups at lower risk, such as children, were subject to stringent, harmful restrictions, the impact of which could have been reduced or avoided. It also meant that resources weren’t adequately allocated to those who were most at risk.