Iain Duncan Smith has accused scientists on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) of getting coronavirus measures ‘completely wrong from the start’.
The former Tory leader was responding to official SAGE advice calling for work-from-home measures to remain in place when he claimed advisors had no right to tell employers what to do because ‘most of them have never run a business’.
IDS lashed out at the scientists, accusing them of getting the coronavirus response ‘completely wrong from start to finish’.
‘Most of them have never run a business and it is not for them to tell employers how best to manage their staff,’ he claimed.
‘There is a desperate need to get people back to work, back into their offices – otherwise our town and city centres will die.’
Smith’s comments come as the Boris Johnson is expected to announce changes to the government’s work-at-home policy to encourage workers to return to the office.
But chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs on Thursday there was ‘absolutely no reason’ to change the guidance.
‘Of the various distancing measures, working from home for many companies remains a perfectly good option because it’s easy to do,’ he advised.
‘I think a number of companies think it’s actually not detrimental to productivity. And in that situation, [there is] absolutely no reason I can see to change it.’
Tory MPs have been pressuring Johnson to ease the measures in order to help retail and hospitality businesses who rely on commuter footfall to survive.
One senior Tory MP, Graham Brady, said the government’s ‘blanket advice’ should be dropped as it ‘takes no account of safety’. He added: ‘This whole business of mixed messaging is very damaging.’
‘Many employers have gone to enormous lengths to make their workplaces safe but when they try to persuade staff to come back, the employee can point to government guidance saying they should work from home.’
Downing Street has also hinted there could be amendments to social distancing rules, adding that the prime minister will soon announce an ‘aspirational’ timeline for easing measures.
This has unsettled Vallance and chief medical officer Chris Whitty who says the one-metre-plus rule should stay in place until a vaccine can be developed.
Number 10 declined to comment but a Whitehall source has told the Daily Mail that any new guidance would be ‘tidied up’ to reflect Johnson’s new back-to-work message.