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Coronavirus: UK blames scientists for ‘wrong’ advice on pandemic

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  • A senior member of Boris Johnson’s government has blamed its coronavirus mistakes on ‘wrong’ scientific advice given by its advisers.
  • Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, told Sky News: ‘If the science was wrong, advice at the time was wrong. I’m not surprised if people will then think we made a wrong decision.’
  • Ministers have been receiving advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • The UK has suffered the second-highest coronavirus death toll in the world.
  • The death toll is already more than double what the government’s own advisers predicted would be a “good result” for the country.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The UK government has blamed its own scientific advisers for giving them the “wrong” advice on tackling the coronavirus, as the death toll continues to grow in the country.

The coronavirus death toll in the UK on Monday has reached at least 44,000, according to the Office for National Statistics, meaning Britain has the second-highest recorded coronavirus death toll in the world after the US.

Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, was asked on Tuesday if with “hindsight” the government had “got it wrong.”

“If the science was wrong, advice at the time was wrong, I’m not surprised if people will then think we made a wrong decision,” Coffey told Sky News

Ministers have been receiving advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are getting advice from the scientists,” Coffey said. “It is for ministers to decide on policy.”

“We have tried to take, every step of the way, making sure that we listen to the science, understand the science and make decisions based on that.”

It came as Sir Adrian Smith, one of the UK’s top scientists, told the Times of London newspaper that ministers should not say “we are simply doing what scientists tell us” over coronavirus and share the advice they have received more openly.

“The danger is if the politicians keep saying, ‘We’re simply doing what the scientists tell us’. That could be awkward. Politicians ultimately must make the decisions,” Smith, a statistician and the incoming president of the Royal Society, one of the UK’s most prominent scientific academies.

“There will be a post mortem on this. But I think the use of science and the re-establishment of experts is something that won’t go away. And I think it won’t be the backlash that, you know, the scientists, got it wrong.”

The government has been secretive about the advice that SAGE has provided to ministers. It only published a list of the members who sit on the group two weeks ago and has not yet published full minutes of the meetings that have taken place.

The government has made public some of the papers considered by the committee, but only after a long delay, and many are heavily redacted. The tranche of papers that were published revealed that 90 papers SAGE had reviewed remained secret.

An influential group of MPs on Monday also called on the government to publish the list of papers considered by SAGE.

Conservative MP William Wragg, chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs, said parliament should be able to review the papers so they can scrutinise the government’s decisions.

He cited evidence taken by the committee from national statistician Professor Ian Diamond, who sits on SAGE, and said the data should be made public.

“The national statistician, who attends Sage, told us that he believes Government should publish the papers discussed by Sage,” Wragg wrote to the prime minister.

“I am writing to ask you to start publishing those papers immediately.

“If for any reasons you are unable to publish a paper, I would like you to write outlining what the paper contains and why it cannot be published.”

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