I'm looking for examples of governments where top officials have declared that their approach to COVID was incorrect in hindsight. Couple of hypothetical examples:

  1. Swedish officials saying that their (relatively speaking) laissez faire approach was incorrect and they should've locked down hard in March 2020
  2. Italian officials saying that their hardcore lockdowns in March 2020 were a mistake and they should've followed Sweden's lead instead

An ideal answer would include links to official reports by governmental organizations rather than one-off statements by politicians.

  • Would a different "and" clause, for example one advocating a middle road, be acceptable?
    – phoog
    Nov 9, 2022 at 19:25
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    The UK is currently holding an inquiry into the government's response. Any comprehensive UK answer to this question may have to wait until the inquiry has completed its work. Nov 9, 2022 at 20:56
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    Of course any pandemic response is going to be "incorrect in hindsight", just as any poker player, no matter how good, is going to make decisions that are "incorrect in hindsight". That's an absurd standard. If you're going to criticize a pandemic response, you should criticize it on the basis of making an argument for how it was clearly incorrect on the basis of information available at the time. This question seems to suggesting that people should be shamed for making the best decisions they could at the time, and it contributes to an atmosphere that makes pandemic response more difficult. Nov 9, 2022 at 22:38
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    @Acccumulation Sweden and Italy had the same information about the virus but took two different approaches. So clearly there was executive decision making involved, not just a single possible decision based on the information at the time. Governments admit mistakes all the time, I’m not sure why the pandemic response should be exempt. Nov 10, 2022 at 2:20
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    @Acccumulation: IMHO the question is sensible in that "the decision was wrong, but we couldn't have known that back then" is likely the type of wrong decision that is easiest to admit for a government: wrong, but not their fault. "It was wrong, we could have known it, so it's our fault" is even more unlikely to happen in practice. (It may be pointed out by opposition, press, courts, or independent commissions, of course) Nov 10, 2022 at 19:20

4 Answers 4


Just one week ago the Germany minister for Health Lauterbach presented a scientific study conducted by among other the Robert-Koch-Institute (the leading German scientific advisor during the pandemics) about the situation of kindergarten facilities (children care from age one to six) during the pandemics.

The study concludes that forcing the kindergarten facilities to close for months (in April-June 2020 and January-April 2021) was wrong and according to this scientific results shouldn't have been done because they weren't locations of increased infection risk of Covid 19. Additionally, the study says that socially disadvantaged children and families have suffered especially under this measure. The minister promised that there won't be such shutdowns anymore (during this pandemics I guess).

In a joint press conference with the minister of Family Affairs on Nov 2nd 2022 the Minister of Health, Professor Karl Lauterbach said:

Kitas waren keine Infektionsherde...

Somit muss man sagen, nach dem Wissen von heute kommt man klar zu der Erkenntnis, dass die Kita-Schließungen zu Begin der Pandemie nicht nötig gewesen wären, sie waren also unnötig aus der Sicht der Wissenschaft von heute...Das Schließen von Kitas ist medizinisch definitiv nicht angemessen...und wäre nicht nötig gewesen.

Kindergartens were no source of infections...

Accordingly one has to say, from the knowledge of today one has to come to the conclusion that the Kindergarten closures at the beginning of the pandemic would not have been necessary, they had been needless from the view of science of today...Closures of Kindergartens are definitely not medicinally adequate...and were not necessary.

Minister of Family Affairs Lisa Paus said:

Trotz all dieser Anstrengungen wissen wir, dass die Belastung von Kindern und Jugendlichen in der Pandemie deutlich zugenommen haben, und das gerade bei denjenigen, die shon vor der Pandemie belastet waren. Deswegen ist es eben nicht überrraschend, aber um so bedrückender, dass die Pandemie die soziale Ungleichheit schon bei den Kleinsten, schon bei Kindern in der Kita verschärft hat. Laut der Kita-Corona-Studie tragen die Kinder, die am meisten von frühkindlicher Förderung profitieren können, besonders schwer an den Folgen der Eindämmungsmaßnahmen.

Despite of all efforts made we know that the strains on children and adolescents were significantly rising during the pandemic, and especially for those that had been under pressure even before the pandemic. Therefor it is not surprising, but even more depressing that the pandemic aggravated social inequality already among the youngest, even among children in daycare. According to the Kindergarten-Corona study the children that can profit the most from early childhood assistance, are suffering the most from the consequences of containment measures.

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    You overtook my answer, which would have been more or less the same. But since I made the effort to translate some quotes from the press conference, should I add them to your answer in an edit?
    – ccprog
    Nov 9, 2022 at 20:55
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    The decision is still correct, because the study had not been conducted at the point the decision was made. The study also shows that these were indeed sites of increased infection risk, just lower than sharing a household -- the key driver behind the pandemic, however, is not a single site, but the exchange of different cohorts at multiple sites (work -> family -> school -> family -> work). Nov 9, 2022 at 22:09
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    @SimonRichter "The decision is still correct" The decision was not correct, only they didn't know at that time so they kind of excused although would they have done it differently it would have been better. They were kind of unlucky but it can also be seen as a wrong decision that will hopefully be corrected in the future. Nov 9, 2022 at 23:51
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    A few side notes: Lauterbach was not minister of health back then, government/coalition changed last fall so one may argue that a new government "admits" the old government made mistakes - though his party was member of the government coalition back then as well; and he publicly spoke in favor of closures. Nov 10, 2022 at 17:42
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    @SimonRichter: among evidence that is only available now and in hindsight, the study discusses also a number of indicators that were available also back then. For example, at the onset of the covid waves, infections in that age group lagging behind infections in young adults. For the wild-type/original variant, only ≈ 1/3 of the cases in outbreak events in kindergardens were kids. That fraction later increased to 62 % and then decreased again to ≈ 45% - the study points to the effect of vaccination of the staff. For comparison, for influenza 83 % of the involved cases were kids... Nov 10, 2022 at 17:56

Sweden used quite relaxed policy with comparatively comparatively limited restrictions. I am not sure if they are very sorry overall on this but anyway Swedes admit to making some mistakes, particularly in nursing homes, where the death toll was staggering.

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    The NYT has always been biased against Sweden when it comes to their Covid approach. Would it be possible to instead link to direct official statements by Swedish officials on this matter? Nov 10, 2022 at 13:14

Such a declaration would be nonsensical.

"If we had the same information two years ago that we have now, we would have decided otherwise" deals with a hypothetical scenario that cannot ever come to pass, because we cannot see into the future.

The measuring stick for past decisions is "with the same information as the past decision-makers had available, would we decide the same thing now?"

In addition, the state as sovereign cannot rely on external or higher entities to come to its aid, and reaction to crisis will be oriented along whether the crisis has the potential to damage that sovereignty. That calculation will look different in Sweden than in Singapore or Taiwan, so direct comparison between countries is also difficult -- a policy that works in Italy could fail in Sweden, or vice versa.

Third, a lot of the things that didn't go wrong did so because of prevention programs that were already in place years before the pandemic, and the state's reaction to the crisis contains both long-term and short-term components, and it is difficult to evaluate these separately. Measures interact with each other as well, for example a mandatory mask policy also created supply chains that allows healthcare workers to exchange their masks more frequently.

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    You noticed the question includes the qualification "incorrect in hindsight"?
    – ccprog
    Nov 9, 2022 at 21:07
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    This qualification makes the entire question pointless, that's what I'm saying. We are dealing with unknowns in a developing situation, still. Any decisions have been and will be taken with incomplete data, and we cannot learn anything from hindsight because it will not be available for the next decision that needs to be taken based on incomplete data. Nov 9, 2022 at 21:43
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    It's not just about "what information we have today vs. what we had then", it's also about "what information we've cherrypicked back then to arrive at our policy". I.e. South Korea published estimates of death rates from COVID per age bracket as early as February 2020 that were pretty accurate. But there was also WHO mortality estimates that was wildly off. Nov 9, 2022 at 21:45
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    No, you can't just excuse any and all government action by claiming info was lacking. Some will have just been boneheaded. Some will only in medical retrospect be wrong. Some resulted in outcomes that could have been predicted despite the lack of medical data. But there's nothing really wrong with saying "we screwed up, let's do better next time". Unless you live in such a litigious society that admission of failure opens the state to mass action lawsuits. This counts for over-reaction and under-reaction wrt covid. Nov 10, 2022 at 1:54
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    The corollary to this answer is that no public inquiry into the responses made by a government should be made. Or, if that inquiry shows any serious deficits: cover it up. Dunno about you but I'd rather not live in that type of country - learning from mistakes is too important. Nov 10, 2022 at 1:57

Governments have admitted it implicitly every time they changed their guidance. The change of guidance, before the pandemic subsided, amounted to admitting that the previous guidance was sub-optimal.

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    Not necessarily. Changing the guidance can also be justified by change in circumstances. That does not imply that the previous guidance was wrong for the circumstances as they were at that time. When a government removes restrictions with lower case numbers and better availability of PPE, vaccines and therapy, then that does not mean they admit that their restrictions were unjustified while the situation was different.
    – Philipp
    Nov 11, 2022 at 8:57
  • @Philipp I did say "before the pandemic subsided." Changing it to "during the period in which no significant changes to the spread of the pandemic were observed" would only invite a debate about whether some change was or wasn't "significant." The truth is a lot of the guidance was experimental because they weren't sure what would and what wouldn't work. And trying a new behavioral approach would be something that they would do when the old one wasn't getting the job done. It didn't depend solely on whether they thought the guidance was working, but also on whether it resulted in compliance.
    – wrod
    Nov 12, 2022 at 1:15

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