Ministers accused of abdicating political duty to narrow field of opaque expertise on Covid-19
Experts have voiced growing frustration over the UK government’s claim that it is “following the science”, saying the refrain is being used to abdicate responsibility for political decisions.
They also raised concerns that the views of public health experts were being overlooked, with disproportionate weight given to the views of modellers.
“As a scientist, I hope I never again hear the phrase ‘based on the best science and evidence’ spoken by a politician,” Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, told the Guardian. “This phrase has become basically meaningless and used to explain anything and everything.”
The government has repeatedly said it is being “led by the science” on decisions ranging from banning mass gatherings to closing schools, the use of face masks and, most recently, the prospects of lifting the lockdown.
However, Sridhar and others argued that scientific views on these topics could be wide-ranging and dependent on a scientist’s field of expertise.
The diversity of scientific views was apparent in March when case numbers were rising rapidly but the government chose not to ban mass gatherings or introduce wide-reaching physical distancing.
“World Health Organization advice, and what we’ve learned from lots of previous outbreaks in low- and middle-income countries, is that the faster you move at the start, the better, because it’s exponential growth,” Sridhar said. “In public health, a test, trace and isolate campaign would’ve been where your mind first went.”
Instead, she said, the government appeared to be basing policy on the presumption of a binary choice between two scenarios, played out in computer models, of either eradicating the virus or it becoming endemic.