The chair of the government’s Sage board has said it is for the government to decide when to ease lockdown measures, after one professor on the advisory panel claimed there was a risk to changing the rules now.
Sir Patrick Vallance, who heads up the advisory board of scientists guiding the government through this pandemic, backed Mr Johnson’s decision by saying it is up to politicians to make such decisions.
Boris Johnson has announced that, from Monday, people will be permitted to meet in groups of up to six people, shops will reopen and some children will go back to school.
Sir Patrick Vallance, above at the daily press conference in Downing Street on Thursday, says it is up to ministers to make decisions on lockdown and for Sage to advise
However Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the Prime Minister had ‘clearly made a political decision’ because the threat of a second peak remains high.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Sir Patrick explained Sage was only there to advise politicians, who have the final say on what to do with evidence presented to them.
Sir Patrick, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government since March 2018, wrote: ‘Science advice to Cobr and to ministers needs to be direct and given without fear or favour. But it is advice. Ministers must decide and have to take many other factors into consideration.’
The chair of Sage explained the advisory board was not infallible, writing: ‘There is a range of opinions in all of discussions and there is wide reading of the latest research, but what Sage endeavours to do is come down to a position or a range of positions, to provide options ministers could consider and explain the uncertainties and assumptions inherent in that science and evidence.’
The lockdown rules are increasingly varied across the UK as the home nations butt heads on easing restrictions
Mr Vallence explained the Sage board is currently made up of academics, clinicians as well as top scientific advisers from the NHS, Public Health Health and other government bodies.
Sir Patrick’s peer on the advisory board, Professor Edmunds has warned that, even if the ‘untested’ contact tracing scheme goes smoothly, the country could still suffer 80 deaths a day until a vaccine is developed.
His comments come as the crucial reproduction ‘R’ value remains at between 0.7 and 0.9. The R rate denotes the number of other people an infected patient will pass the sickness on to and it must stay at 1 or below or Britain will face another crisis.
Two other SAGE experts lined up behind Professor Edmunds on Saturday to caution that measures were being relaxed when the infection rate was still not low enough.
Professor Edmunds said: ‘Many of us would prefer to see the incidence driven down to lower levels because that then means we have fewer cases occurring before we relax the measures.
‘We’re heading for resurgence’ warns former WHO director
On Saturday evening a former director of the World Health Organisation Professor Anthony Costello, predicted a resurgence of the virus in a scathing tweet.
He said: ‘We have 8000 cases daily, a private testing system set up without connection to primary care, call-centre tracing that appears a fiasco, and no digital app.
‘After 4 months. Unless the population has hidden (T cell?) immunity, we’re heading for resurgence.’
‘We could tolerate a little bit [of an increase in infections]. At the moment, with relatively high incidence,relaxing the measures and also with an untested track and trace system, I think we are taking some risk here.
‘Even if that risk does pay off, and we manage to keep the incidence flat, we’re keeping it flat at quite a high level – 8,000 new infections a day.
‘If there’s a 1 per cent infection fatality rate that’s 80 deaths per day, if there’s half a per cent, that’s 40 per day.
‘That’s the amount of deaths we might expect to see going forward. That’s clearly a political decision, it’s not a scientific decision.’
Writing in his column Sir Patrick explained evidence is not always clear, accepting the advice Sage presents to government may not always be correct and science around the virus will change as the world learns more about it.
He added: ‘The evidence we present to ministers will always be based on a careful analysis of the science available at the time.’
Former World Health Organisation director Professor Anthony Costello sent a scathing tweet on Saturday, predicting a resurgence of the virus.
Scientists have had a mixed response to Boris Johnson’s decision to ease lockdown measures further on Sunday. The Prime Minister returned to Downing Street on Sunday morning after heading out for exercise
He said: ‘We have 8000 cases daily, a private testing system set up without connection to primary care, call-centre tracing that appears a fiasco, and no digital app. After 4 months. Unless the population has hidden (T cell?) immunity, we’re heading for resurgence.’
Ahead of next week’s easing of restrictions, England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said on Saturday: ‘This is a dual responsibility here of government to go slowly and carefully and to take the advice from the scientists, of the scientists to watch this whole thing very closely over the next few weeks and of the public in general to actually follow the guidance.
‘Don’t tear the pants out of it and don’t go further than the guidance actually says.’