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UK scientists openly question the government's pandemic response

UK Scientists Openly Question the Government’s Pandemic Response

LONDON – As Britain pushes its way through the coronavirus pandemic, the government insists science is guiding its decisions. But a self-proclaimed group of independent experts said they saw little in Britain’s evidence-based response, especially after an upsurge in new cases forced new ones to be lifted lock restrictions.
Unlike other European countries where the debate has raged over how to control COVID-19, scientific opposition to the British approach is notably organized: the independent group sits almost in parallel with the government’s own scientists, assessing the same epidemic indicators but publicly identifying failures and inconsistencies.
The group has published detailed reports on almost all of the major issues discussed in recent weeks: contact tracing, the reopening of schools, restaurants and pubs, and social relaxation. And at nearly every turn, independent experts have mainly pointed out glaring errors in the government’s approach.
“There’s no long-term strategy, as far as we can see,” said Deenan Pillay, professor of virology at University College London, who advised the government during the swine flu pandemic of 2009-10 and is a member of the independent group.
“It is the role of scientists and those with the expertise to hold the government to account,” he said.
The UK government created a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, also known as SAGE, as the coronavirus exploded in January to deal with the emerging crisis. Its composition was kept secret with a few exceptions. This troubled David King, a former chief government science adviser, who then created an “independent SAGE” in early May.
On the day of the ghost group’s first public meeting, the government finally released a list naming the scientists who gave it advice.
Cabinet ministers have since abandoned their regular coronavirus briefings and appear to have focused on restarting the economy. At the same time, independent experts hold weekly press conferences analyzing the government’s latest virus indicators.
Mark Walport, a SAGE member and former chief science adviser to the government, said the rival group risked confusing the public with its assessments and scientists should not be making political decisions. But psychologist Susan Michie said she and other scientists were frustrated with what they saw as their lack of impact with officials.
“What’s depressing about this is that they don’t seem to be learning any lessons or showing evidence that they’re listening to (the World Health Organization) or scientific advice,” Michie, who sits on the both on the SAGE subcommittee and on Independent SAUGE.
Shortly before some schools were reopened by Britain on June 1, Independent SAGE issued a report warning against it because the country did not have the necessary contact tracing system. Some schools have reopened, but many will remain closed until September.
Several weeks later, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that social distancing guidelines would be reduced from 2 meters to 1 meter, including indoors.
However, the independent SAGE said COVID-19 transmission rates were still too high for such a change, noting that 97% of “super-spread” events started in indoor environments.
And at a press conference on July 24, Christina Pagel, an independent SAGE scientist, said that given the risks of the virus spreading among people exercising indoors, she did not believe that he was sure to reopen the gyms. The next day, Britain opened gyms across the country.
While the group’s criticisms of government policy have mostly been framed in dry scientific language, this was not the case when the UK imposed its first local lockdown at the end of June then as infections have increased in the city of Leicester, in central England.
The independent SAGE called it “a predictable crisis on the government’s own initiative” and said that by imposing further restrictions without consulting local authorities, it risked “creating uncertainty, dissent and even disorder. “.
The group called on the government to radically change its approach.
(Sahar News Monitoring Desk)

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