Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 18, May 16, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Coronavirus Pandemic

Independent Scientists Criticise Government's Covid-19 Approach

The government's decision to outsource coronavirus contact tracing to private call centre operators including Serco has been condemned as bewildering by an independent group of scientists set up in parallel to the government's official science advisers.

The Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, led by former chief scientific adviser Sir David King, published a report on May 12 criticising the government's Covid-19 approach so far, from its use of statistics to its new "stay alert" messaging.

The report warns that easing of the lockdown is dangerous and that further local Covid-19 epidemics are going to be inevitable. It accuses the prime minister of not "following the science", and criticises the limited aim of flattening infections to ensure that the NHS is not "overwhelmed". It says: "We find this attitude counter-productive and potentially dangerous."

The report continues: "Without suppression, we shall inevitably see a more rapid return of local epidemics and face the prospect of further partial or national lockdowns."

The report also strongly criticises the controversial new "stay alert" and "control the virus" messages, saying they must be replaced with much clearer advice "closely linked to action".

Sir David King said: "Since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, the government has told us they are 'following the science'. However, in the weeks and months that have followed, it has become increasingly apparent that this is simply not the case."

Independent Sage was set up because of criticism that the official Sage was failing to fully reflect scientific opinion and was too secretive. In addition to Sir David King, members of the Independent Sage include Professor Gabriel Scally, a pre-eminent epidemiologist, public health expert Professor Allyson Pollock, and Professor Anthony Costello, a former director of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In its report, Independent Sage:

* Attacks the apparent decision to stop community testing for the coronavirus in March and "allow the epidemic to spread and build herd immunity";
* Criticises the government's use of "inaccurate, incomplete and selective data", calling for the Office for Statistics Regulation to assess it;
* Calls for local public-health teams to be given the resources to track and trace every case - instead of being "bypassed" in favour of private firms;
* Warns that the existing modelling of the critical "R" reproduction rate is "3-4 weeks out of date";
* Calls for people with Covid-19 symptoms to go into quarantine for 14 days - rather than just 7 - as the WHO has recommended;
* Warns it would be "foolish" to bank on a vaccine soon, with "recurrent local outbreaks" possible for at least a year.

(New Scientist, Independent)


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