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UK Govt’s nursing home COVID-19 policy deemed ‘unlawful’

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A court has ruled that the UK Government acted illegally when it discharged hospital patients into nursing homes without testing them for COVID-19 or isolating them – a policy that led to thousands of deaths early in the pandemic.

Two High Court judges said the policy in March and April 2020 was unlawful because it failed to take into account the infection risk that non-symptomatic carriers of the virus posed to older or vulnerable people.

The judges said UK officials did not take into account the “growing awareness” that the virus could be spread by people who had no symptoms, which had been identified as a risk as far back as late January 2020.

They said the UK Government should have advised that discharged hospital patients be kept separate from other nursing home residents for 14 days – something that did not happen in the first weeks of the country’s outbreak.

About 20,000 people died with the virus in UK nursing homes during the initial months of the country’s first outbreak in 2020.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit by two women whose fathers died when the virus swept through the homes where they lived.

Their lawyers said the decision – which allowed COVID-19 to spread among the elderly and vulnerable – was “one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures in the modern era”.

The judges backed some parts of the lawsuit’s arguments, but rejected claims made under human rights legislation and against the National Health Service.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government would study the ruling and respond “in due course”.

He said officials had to make difficult decisions at an “incredibly difficult time” when “we didn’t know very much about the disease”.

“The thing we didn’t know in particular was that COVID could be transmitted asymptomatically in the way that it was, and that was something that I wish we had known more about at the time,” Johnson said in the House of Commons.

“Of course, I want to renew my apologies and sympathies for all those who lost loved ones during the pandemic, people who lost loved ones in care homes,” he added.

Like many countries, the UK had little capacity to test for coronavirus when the pandemic began, and many asymptomatic patients were quickly released from hospitals back into care homes, where COVID-19 soon ran riot.

Johnson has set up an independent public inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic although it has yet to begin.

More than 174,000 people have died in the UK after testing positive for the virus, the highest toll in Europe after Russia.

AAP

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