Boris Johnson Ignored Plea From Government's Scientific Advisers For Two-Week National Lockdown

Minutes from Sage meeting three weeks ago detail demand for series of measures to get on top of Covid-19.

Ministers ignored a plea from the government’s top scientific advisers to introduce a two-week shutdown among a package of strict measures to halt the spread of Covid-19.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) last month called for a short “circuit-breaker” as well as banning all contact between different households and closing all bars, restaurants and gyms.

They warned single interventions are “unlikely” to stop the exponential rise in coronavirus cases.

In the event, Boris Johnson opted only to introduce one of the proposals –namely reversing advice to work from the office if possible.

Minutes of Sage’s September 21 meeting were published on the same day as the prime minister set out a new three-tier system of alert levels for England, with some parts of the country facing stricter measures than others.

Pubs and bars across Merseyside will close unless they serve food and alcohol as part of a sit-down meal as the Liverpool city region moves into a “very high” Covid alert level under the new system.

At a press conference to accompany the announcement, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said he is “not confident” that even the toughest local lockdown level announced by the government can control Covid-19.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “The revelations in this paper are alarming.

“The fact that the prime minister chose to publish it an hour after his press conference is yet more evidence that he is treating the British people with contempt.

“Labour warned earlier that the restrictions announced by the Prime Minister may not be sufficient.

“The government now needs to urgently explain why it ignored its own scientists and what it will be doing to get control of the virus.”

The Sage minutes stated: “A package of interventions will need to be adopted to prevent this exponential rise in cases.

“Single interventions are unlikely to be able to reduce incidence. If schools are to remain open, then a wide range of other measures will be required.

“The shortlist of non-pharmaceutical interventions that should be considered for immediate introduction include:

“A circuit-breaker (short period of lockdown) to return incidence to low levels. o Advice to work from home for all those that can.

“Banning all contact within the home with members of other households (except members of a support bubble).

“Closure of all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gyms, and personal services (e.g. hairdressers).

“All university and college teaching to be online unless absolutely essential.”

Attendees of the September 21 meeting, held via Zoom, included Whitty and the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

The document says that both local and national measures are needed, adding: “Measures should not be applied in too specific a geographical area.”

On Monday evening, Sage scientist Professor Calum Semple warned the new restrictions announced by the PM had come too late and a “circuit-breaker” could be needed within weeks.

Asked if the level of response announced for London is sufficient for the threat, the University of Liverpool academic told BBC Radio 4’s PM: “I’m going to be difficult and say no, I think we’re a little late to react.”

He said there is a three-to-four-week delay before interventions see benefits in hospitals.

“I and other people who were advocating for quite stringent severe local interventions where necessary three to four weeks ago, our fear is now that we’re in another place now,” he said.

“And that we’re going to need a much firmer intervention perhaps, the so-called circuit-breaker, in the matter of weeks.

“The outbreak is a bit like a super-tanker, you put the brakes on but it takes a long time before you see the effect.”

A full lockdown was introduced on March 23, but some scientists have since argued that more lives could have been saved if restrictions had been imposed earlier.

The government has insisted there was “no delay” to lockdown, with its actions being “guided by the advice of world-renowned scientists”.


What's Hot