Of the many myths that have taken hold during the pandemic, perhaps none is more central than that the Government was caught out by Covid with no idea about how it ought to respond. Thus the extreme and unprecedented response of lockdown appears to many to be justified by this notion that ministers had little choice but to ‘play it safe’, and the subsequent experiments in social restrictions as we awaited and delivered a rushed vaccine and beyond are imagined as a heroic voyage into the unknown of how a government ought to respond to an ‘unprecedented’ disease.
In fact, though, the Government had a plan for what it should do, the U.K. Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011, and COVID-19 was well within the bounds of what the plan anticipated. As Dr. Noah Carl has noted, this was the plan the Government was following until mid-March 2020, with SAGE re-affirming at a meeting on February 4th 2020 that officials “should continue to plan using current influenza pandemic assumptions”.
While the strategy was focused on influenza, it expressly anticipated the possibility of a new SARS virus:
A pandemic is most likely to be caused by a new subtype of the Influenza A virus but the plans could be adapted and deployed for scenarios such as an outbreak of another infectious disease, e.g. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in health care settings, with an altogether different pattern of infectivity.
The Covid death toll has also been well within what was anticipated, the 193,000 deaths over more than two years being below what the plan suggested should be anticipated as a minimum within four months:
When planning for excess deaths, local planners should prepare to extend capacity on a precautionary but reasonably practicable basis, and aim to cope with up to 210,000 – 315,000 additional deaths across the U.K. over a 15 week period (or a higher level where possible).