By Jason Groves Political Editor For The Daily Mail and Emily Craig Health Reporter For Mailonline
Former chancellor Rishi Sunak has said tonight that scientists should not have been put in charge of the Government’s Covid response
Scientists should never have been put in charge of the Government’s Covid response, Rishi Sunak said this evening.
The former chancellor said it had been a mistake to ’empower’ the Government’s scientific committee Sage, whose doom-laden forecasts drove Britain into a series of damaging lockdowns.
Mr Sunak said the Government had also given too little consideration to the knock-on effects of lockdowns in areas such as health, education and the economy.
And he said ministers had been wrong to use ‘scare’ tactics to force people into compliance, arguing it made it harder for the economy to recover.
He also revealed that discussion of the negative impacts of lockdown had been discouraged, even within Government.
The Sage committee was made up of a disparate group of scientists, with most not employed directly by the Government.
Critics said the committee had an in-built bias towards caution because it had no remit to look at the wider impacts of lockdowns.
Mr Sunak yesterday revealed he had struggled to get answers on the assumptions that underpinned the committee’s often nightmarish scenarios.
‘If you empower all these independent people, you’re screwed,’ he said. In an interview with the Spectator magazine, he added: ‘We shouldn’t have empowered the scientists in the way we did.
‘And you have to acknowledge trade-offs from the beginning. If we’d done all of that, we could be in a very different place.’
The Sage committee was made up of a disparate group of scientists, with most not employed directly by the Government. Pictured: Government TV advert featuring NHS Covid patients
The Tory leadership hopeful said lockdowns ‘could have been shorter. Different. Quicker’
The Tory leadership hopeful said lockdowns ‘could have been shorter. Different. Quicker.’
He also said he drew up the £850million Eat Out to Help Out scheme in the summer of 2020 to try to rebuild confidence after a series of terrifying Government advertising campaigns.
‘In every brief, we tried to stop the fear narrative,’ he said. ‘I constantly said it was wrong.’
Mr Sunak said he had been particularly offended by the posters showing Covid patients on ventilators.
And he said he had been ticked off by the Cabinet Office after giving a speech in which he said it was time to ‘live without fear’.
He repeated his claim that a lockdown was only prevented last winter after he decided to cut short a trip to the US to challenge fresh warnings from Sage about the Omicron variant.
He said he was receiving independent briefings about the variant which suggested it was less dangerous than Sage had said.
Government sources have previously disputed Mr Sunak’s claim that he was instrumental in preventing the winter lockdown.
His comments come after Sage modellers themselves admitted earlier this year that their calculations on infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths were ‘eye watering’ and failed to consider wider impacts.
Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist who was among the most outspoken members of SAGE, said their forecasts were only ‘one component’ of decision making’ and he worried they had ‘too much weight’.
He added: ‘There is of course an enormous economic impact from many of the interventions and other indirect impacts on psychological health and so on. Now these in principle could be included but in practice they were not.’
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SAGE’s modelling team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine presented projections on infections (purple), hospitalisations (red) and deaths (black) under different scenarios up to August 2022. The top graph shows hospital admissions from the beginning from the pandemic. They estimated there could be 10,400 hospitalisations in England per day at the peak of the outbreak in February in a worst-case scenario (far right red graph), if Omicron escapes immunity from vaccines and previous infection and the boosters have a low efficacy. They assumed that Omicron will continue to grow exponentially even under Plan B curbs, two jabs offer just 50 per cent protection against severe disease from the mutant strain and boosters just 80 per cent
Imperial College London modelling from March 2020 suggested Covid curbs individually were insufficient to bring down virus admissions to a level hospitals could cope with
Warwick University scientists calculated there would be 6,000 deaths a day in early 2022 if Plan B alone remains implemented and there is ‘extreme pressure’ on the NHS. The graph shows death estimates if Plan B has low effectiveness (top row of graphs) to high effectiveness (bottom row), while the columns show death projections based on Omicron’s severity (low to high, left to right)
In the winter Omicron surge, Sage teams warned that daily hospitalisations could reach 10,000 — more than four times higher than actual peak of around 2,400.
Deaths peaked 20-times lower than the experts’ worst-case scenario.
Ahead of Freedom Day last July, the modelling suggested there could be another 200,000 UK deaths in the year June 2022 in a worst-case scenario, which was quickly disputed by other scientists who said it underestimated the power of the vaccines.
And ahead of the winter 2020 surge, they warned deaths could hit 4,000 per day. A peak of 1,820 was logged.
Sage scientists previously claimed their official projections did not come to fruition due to behavioural changes among the population, who cut their contacts when cases are on the rise, as well as high levels of immunity following multiple waves.
The models have come under fire from other experts, who have criticised SAGE for failing to talk to sociologist and economists when doing their modelling, meaning they failed to incorporate ‘things other people know about’.
Professor Graham Medley, who chairs Spi-M, a modelling group that feeds into SAGE, previously admitted modelling has failed to reflect the reality of how waves unfold because they do not factor in behaviour changes, one of the Government’s chief pandemic advisers has admitted.
‘The epidemic is dynamic,’ he said. ‘People’s responses to the situation in March 2020 were very different to those in November 2020 and very different again in January 2021.’
Professor Medley, based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, added: ‘The modelling is there to understand the process and what’s going on.
‘We know we cannot accurately predict the numbers but we can give insight into the processes that determine the outcomes.’
23 March – In an historic televised address, Boris Johnson announces a nationwide lockdown coming into effect on 26 March. All non-essential shops are required to close and public gatherings of more than two people are banned. Police are given new powers to enforce lockdown with fine.
26 March – The first ‘Clap for Carers’ event takes place across the UK at 18.00, applauding the NHS for their work during the pandemic.
27 March – Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock both test positive for Covid-19 as the virus rips through Westminster. Chris Whitty also starts self-isolating after suffering from Covid symptoms.
5 April – The Prime Minister is admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in London for ‘precautionary’ tests after his symptoms persisted for 10 days. Queen Elizabeth II makes a rare televised broadcast to the UK and the wider Commonwealth, thanking people for following the government’s new Covid rules and telling the nation: ‘If we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it’.
6 April – Boris Johnson moved to intensive care after his condition dramatically worsens. First Secretary of State Dominic Raab stands in as deputy.
16 April – 99-year-old war veteran Captain Tom Moore finishes walking 100 laps of his garden, eventually raising almost £33 million for NHS Charities Together. Dominic Raab announces a three-week extension of the nationwide lockdown.
29 April – The Daily Mail’s new charity, Mail Force, flies in vital PPE worth over £1million for frontline hospital staff in dire need of equipment.
23 May – Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief political adviser, is revealed to have travelled 260 miles from London to Durham to self-isolate during lockdown.
26 May – In an extraordinary press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden Dominic Cummings says he doesn’t regret his lockdown-breaking journey to Durham amid calls for him to resign.
15 June – All non-essential retail opens in the UK, and places of worship open for private worship. Face coverings become mandatory on public transport.
4 July – Pubs, restaurants, hairdressers reopen as lockdown measures continue to ease in the UK.
14 September – Social gatherings of more than six are banned as Covid cases begin to rise across the country.
22 September – In a televised address Boris Johnson warns the nation ‘the fight against Covid is by no means over’ as he unveiled new restrictions including a 10pm curfew for pubs and £200 fines for those flouting rules.
14 October – A new three-tiered system of lockdowns comes into effect in the UK, rating areas in the country medium, high or very high.
31 October – Boris Johnson announces a second national lockdown for England to prevent a ‘medical and moral disaster’, lasting from 5 November to 2 December.
9 November – The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine is reported to be 90 per cent successful in preventing COVID-19.
23 November – The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is revealed to be 70 per cent effective. Boris Johnson confirms the previous three-tier system of COVID regulations will return once lockdown finishes on 2 December.
3 December – Britain becomes the first country in the world to approve a Covid vaccine, with the Pfizer/BioNTech arriving the following week. But Boris Johnson warns the public should not get ‘carried away with over optimism’.
8 December – Margaret Keenan, 90, becomes the first person to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as the UK jab rollout begins.
14 December – Matt Hancock announces the discovery of a new variant of Covid that is spreading faster in some areas of the country.
19 December – Boris Johnson announces that London, the South East and East of England will go into new Tier 4 restrictions and Christmas bubbles will be scrapped in Tier 4 areas, effectively cancelling Christmas for millions of families.
4 January – The country is plunged into a third national lockdown from 5 January, shutting all non-essential retail and schools. Brian Pinker, 82, becomes the first person to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID vaccine.
2 February – Captain Sir Tom Moore dies aged 100 after testing positive for COVID-19. A study, suggests that a single dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could lead to a ‘substantial’ fall in the spread of COVID, and is 76% effective in the 12 weeks before the second dose is given.
22 February – Boris Johnson reveals his roadmap out of the third national lockdown in England, with schools opening on 8 March and non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality opening from 12 April.
8 March – Step one of the unlocking sees schools allowed to reopen and people allowed to meet one other person outside once a day. The stay at home order remains in place.
29 March – The second part of step one allows people to leave their homes when they wish but they are advised to ‘stay local’. Up to two people can meet indoors and up to six outdoors, including in private gardens. Open air sports facilities can reopen.
12 April – Non-essential shops are reopened and restaurants and pubs are allowed to offer outdoor service as part of step two of the unlocking. Many other outdoor venues also reopen, including zoos and theme parks. Self-contained holidays are permitted.
17 May – Step three of unlocking takes place. Social mixing rules are expanded to allow the rule of six indoors and up to 30 people to meet outdoors. Indoor venues can reopen, including cinemas, restaurants and pubs. Outdoor stadiums can seat up to 10,000 spectators.
14 June – Boris delays ‘freedom day’ by more than a month after a surge in cases of the Delta variant. The new date for the final unlocking is scheduled for July 19, which the PM says will buy the country time to vaccinate more people.
19 July – The final part of the roadmap out of lockdown sees most legal limits on social contact lifted, including the rule of six. Nightclubs are also able to open their doors for the first time in months. People are asked to ‘gradually’ to return to their desks as the WFH advice is softened. The ‘one metre plus’ rule on social distancing is lifted except in specific circumstances such as at the border and legal requirements to wear face coverings are ditched.
4 November – UK becomes first country to approve an antiviral that can slash the risk of severe Covid. Nearly half a million doses of molnupiravir, a pill that can be taken twice daily at home, are due for delivery from mid-November.
16 November – NHS begins Covid booster vaccine rollout campaign after approval from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). Data shows protection from two doses starts to wane after six months. Elderly care-home residents are offered jabs first, moving down through the age cohorts to over-50s. Frontline health and social care workers and younger adults with underlying health conditions are also included in the rollout.
23 November: UK scientist sounds the alarm about ‘horrific’ new variant with 32 mutations on its spike protein – which is later named Omicron. The strain causes an explosion of cases in South Africa where it was first detected.
27 November – The first two cases of Omicron are announced in the UK as ministers impose a ban on swathes of southern Africa in an attempt to limit the importation of cases.
30 November – The booster vaccine rollout is expanded to all adults aged 18 and over to tackle Omicron.
8 December – Boris moves England to ‘plan B’ restrictions for winter as the Omicron variant is projected to send case rates to astronomical levels. Face masks become mandatory in most public indoor venues and NHS Covid Passes must be used to gain access to specific settings. People are asked to work from home when possible.
January 27 – The Omicron wave begins to settle a tidal wave of infections sent daily cases to more than 200,000 per day. Hospital pressure does not reach levels projected by expert advisers, with the booster rollout credited. England moves to ‘plan A’ which sees face coverings and NHS Covid passes scrapped.
February 24 – The Government’s ‘Living with Covid’ is enacted, with all remaining restrictions ending. People who catch the virus no longer have to self-isolate, although they will still be advised to avoid others for five days.
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