FOR weeks political enemies of the Prime Minister and the cabinet have suggested reckless decisions were made in the early days fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
But the release of a series of official documents late on Friday reveal an inconvenient truth for the craven haters looking to attack every move the government has made, which is why you probably haven’t heard much about them in the mainstream media.
We now know officially that the government WAS following the scientific advice, as they have said they were all along.
Sure, we may have been badly let down at times by that science and the organisations behind our response.
However, the varied group of experts offered their best advice during an unprecedented health emergency that started in China, where the totalitarian government did not provide some of the early information we so desperately needed.
The release of the 51 papers over five months from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) makes for depressing reading on some counts.
Most disturbingly, Public Health England abandoned testing and tracing in the early days because it could only cope with five cases a week. Five! Totally hopeless.
On February 18, SAGE said: “When there is sustained transmission in the UK, contact tracing will no longer be useful.”
We now know that was a mistake that likely cost many lives.
But the material released shuts down once and for all that Boris Johnson and the government were somehow freelancing when it came to decisions around lockdown.
It is constantly asked: Why did we not lock down sooner? But when SAGE met on March 5 the scientists cautioned the government against this move because of the likelihood of it causing a second wave and other serious health problems.
Likewise, why wasn’t there a travel ban like the one instituted by the US and New Zealand? Because on February 3 SAGE said its modelling showed even reducing flights by a then unthinkable 95 per cent would only delay the epidemic by a month.
And why were events like Cheltenham and the Stereophonics gigs allowed to take place? Because SAGE advice was that the continuation of mass gatherings was low risk.
In the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance explained the papers had been released in real time to “track the evolution of thinking” and even see “where significant gaps in knowledge still exist”.
In other words, he’s holding his hands up and saying in many cases in the early days the scientists didn’t have the answers we needed and had to take punts based on modelling and expertise.
On the process, he added “Science advice to Cobra and to ministers needs to be direct and given without fear of favour. But it is advice, ministers must decide and have to take many other factors into consideration. In a democracy that is the only way it should be. The science advice needs to be independent of politics.”
But in a clear reference to the controversial theory that the UK was initially following a herd immunity strategy, he added this transparency provides “a chance to correct some of the misconceptions that have taken hold”.
Clearly, mistakes were made. But so many of those issues are connected to the civil service bureaucracy, including at PHE and SAGE, which was not nimble enough to provide the bold advice and swift action required. That must not be allowed to happen again.
More than anything else, it proves the Boris and government ministers now need to start making their own judgements on opening up the economy and getting us all out of this devastating lockdown – before the consequences are catastrophic.