Researchers are prepared to reveal the confusion and lack of consensus within the UK government during the Covid investigation.
New information regarding the conflicts and differences between former prime minister Boris Johnson, his cabinet members, and the country’s leading scientific advisors during crucial moments of the Covid-19 pandemic is set to be revealed this week at the official inquiry into the crisis. On Monday, Sir Patrick Vallance, the former chief scientific advisor for the government, will provide testimony during an all-day session that is expected to shed further insight on the turmoil within the government as the virus spread globally.
Vallance will be succeeded in the witness box by the remaining leading scientists who stood alongside government officials at the televised daily Covid briefings.
On Tuesday, Professor Chris Whitty, the top medical expert in England, will have a full day of discussion. The following day, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the previous deputy chief medical officer, and Professor Dame Angela McLean, the current chief scientific adviser, will also be present for the inquiry. In August 2020, Prof McLean referred to former Chancellor Rishi Sunak as “Dr Death” after the Treasury’s “eat out to help out” initiative.
A topic that will likely be investigated is the level of involvement of scientists during important decisions, such as the “eat out to help out” program. This program aimed to incentivize the public to dine out by offering discounts on restaurant bills.
The investigation will also look into whether the scientists felt pressured by politics to conform to the government’s stance, potentially leading to the withholding of information about the full extent of the known risks from the public.
One former government minister with knowledge of the Covid threat at the time said: “In the early days, there was a political imperative not to overstate or overreact.
The minister stated that these scientists were not used to appearing in Downing Street with politicians during televised press conferences.
They were likely feeling pressured and chose their words carefully. This was definitely a problem.
Scientists may face challenges in regards to evidence that has surfaced indicating they were more vocal about the severity of the Covid pandemic in private compared to their public statements.
Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s ex-chief adviser, shared in a WhatsApp group with No 10 aides on February 6, 2020 that Vallance had informed him that the virus was most likely spreading uncontrollably and would soon affect the entire world.
On February 25, 2020, Whitty and Vallance spoke to reporters, stating that information from China indicated it was still feasible to control the spread of the virus.
Vallance stated: “We have consistently believed that this situation could either be manageable or uncontrollable.”
One entry from Vallance’s diary during the pandemic, which was shared with the inquiry, stated: “Business as usual chaos at Number 10. During Friday’s meeting on the two-metre rule, it was evident that nobody at Number 10 or the Cabinet Office had thoroughly read or comprehended the scientific advice on the matter. Truly remarkable.”
According to their initial testimonies, Vallance and Whitty expressed that if they had been asked, they would have discouraged the implementation of the eat out to help out program. They believed it could potentially lead to a rise in Covid-19 cases during a critical period in the UK’s efforts to manage the virus.