Health officials are failing to provide evidence outlining the reasons why the UK government decided not to copy South Korea’s COVID-19 action plan – including mass testing – according to the Commons Science Committee chairman.
Greg Clark, who is also a former minister, said on Thursday that it is “regrettable and concerning that this evidence is being withheld” from his panel of MPs – despite senior officials at Public Health England (PHE) promising to provide it in March.
The Tory MP said he believes that the decision to reject South Korea’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak “may be one of the most pivotal decisions made in this pandemic.” In February, South Korea had the most coronavirus patients of any country in the world, other than China where the deadly disease was first reported late last year.
However, South Korea very quickly suppressed and drove down the country’s infection rates with a combination of mass testing, contact tracing, isolation and surveillance. To date, South Korea has only recorded just over 250 deaths, while the UK’s death toll has rocketed past 30,000.
Clark – who served under previous PMs Theresa May and David Cameron – revealed that PHE officials had told his committee on March 25 that they would publish the evidence “in the next few days.” However, it has still not emerged.
During the UK government’s daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, Professor Dame Angela McLean, the deputy chief scientific adviser, insisted that ministers should look to South Korea as a “fine example” and follow its policy.
Boris Johnson’s administration has become embroiled in controversy surrounding a lack of tests in the UK, and questions over their validity. Official figures published on Wednesday showed that the government had failed to achieve its 100,000-tests-a-day threshold for the fourth day in a row.
Critics have also hammered UK officials after it was revealed that COVID-19 home-testing kits sent out in the post to recipients – before reaching laboratories – are being counted in the government’s official daily figures.