The Government was not “fully prepared” for the “wide-ranging impacts” that Covid-19 had on society, the economy, and essential public services, a new report has found.
The National Audit Office report also found that the government lacked detailed plans on shielding, job support schemes and school disruption.
Some lessons from “previous simulation exercises” – that would have helped with Covid-19 preparations – were “not fully implemented”, it said.
Did Brexit have an impact on the Government’s reaction to Covid?
The report, which looked at the Government’s preparedness for the Covid-19 pandemic, also found that time and energy spent preparing for Brexit both helped and hindered planning for future crises.
The watchdog said preparations for leaving the European Union enhanced some departments’ “crisis capabilities”, but also took up significant resources, meaning the Government had to pause or postpone some planning work for a potential flu pandemic.
“Some work areas of the Pandemic Flu Readiness Board and the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Programme Board, including scheduling a pandemic influenza exercise in 2019-20, were paused or postponed to free up resources for EU exit work,” the report said.
The NAO found that the emergency planning unit of the Cabinet Office allocated 56 of its 94 full-time equivalent staff to prepare for potential disruptions from a no-deal exit, “limiting its ability” to plan for other crises.
“This raises a challenge for the Government as to whether it has the capacity to deal with multiple emergencies or shocks,” the report said.
Pandemic ‘exposed a vulnerability’
The watchdog found that, overall, the pandemic “exposed a vulnerability to whole-system emergencies”.
Although the Government had plans for a pandemic, many of these were “not adequate” for the challenge at hand, it said.
It added that there was “limited oversight and assurance” of the plans in place, and that some lessons from “previous simulation exercises” – that would have helped with Covid-19 preparations – were “not fully implemented”.
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