Johnson, it seems, is trapped by his bitterly divided Conservative Party – facing hawks, like his Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, who wants to keep the economy as open as possible and doves, who think tough measures now. would be better. longer term.
His attempts to walk that delicate line were evident at a press conference Monday night. Instead of introducing a short and precise “circuit breaker” lockout, advocated by experts who want to immediately interrupt the current transmission rate and save the country time before a harsh winter, Johnson described a three-level system of measurements lock, to be applied locally depending on the number of cases reported in a given area.
Hours later, a revealing cache of documents was posted online – the minutes of a recent meeting of the UK government’s group of top science advisers, the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE).
Records show that SAGE agreed at its September 21 meeting that a “package of interventions will need to be adopted to avoid this exponential increase in cases,” including a “circuit breaker to reduce incidence to low levels; Tips for working from home for anyone who can; Prohibit all contact at home; Closure of all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gymnasiums and personal services. ”
Yet the Prime Minister seems to have granted SAGE only one wish: the day after that meeting, he advised people to work from home when possible.
Robert Dingwall, a social science professor at Nottingham Trent University who sits on a panel that advises SAGE, believes some of the group’s recommendations have not been taken into account by the government because “they were based on theoretical assumptions , rather than empirical evidence, ”adding that this“ reflects the lack of investment in research in social behavioral science in relation to drugs and vaccines ”.
All of these arguments between politics and science will eventually become public knowledge when the UK’s response to the coronavirus is considered in the inevitable public inquiry, at some point in the future.
And whatever the merit of protecting the economy in the long run, creating the perception that you’re ignoring scientific advice could be dangerous, if the virus rioted and the already massive UK death toll rose further.
As Simon Clarke, associate professor of microbiology at the University of Reading, says: “Politicians have to work their way through this situation. The more they seem to be fighting with their best science advisers, the more responsibility they take for the worst public health failures during the country’s worst health crisis in a century. “