While Boris Johnson has appeared to turn to experts for advice over the coronavirus outbreak, it is Dominic Cummings who is still orchestrating the key messaging.
Cummings, who wrote in a blog in 2016 that he is ‘particularly interested in public health and the field of epidemiology’, has taken a hands-on role in the government’s messaging, the Financial Times reports.
The special adviser has deduced that after the success of Vote Leave’s ‘take back control’ in 2016 and the Tories’ ‘get Brexit done’ in 2019, that the main message for the coronavirus outbreak should use three word catchphrases too.
It is said that focus groups had swayed Cummings’ thinking to encourage government to repeat the lines ‘wash your hands’ and ‘stay at home’.
A government source told the newspaper: ”Wash your hands’ might have seemed a bit trivial at the start. But when you’re talking to people in focus groups, they want to know what they can do to make a difference.’
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It comes after messaging using the word ‘self-isolation’ were said to have scared the public.
‘Talk of self-isolate scared people, they didn’t understand what it meant so we dropped it.’
While the government’s messaging appears uncontroversial, its overall ‘herd immunity’ approach has been criticised by a number of experts.
Anthony Costello, professor of international child health and director of the University College London Institute for Global Health, questioned the tactics and argued they looked like they were against the policy set down by WHO.
Prof Costello said the government was arguing that allowing a proportion of the population to catch the virus and gain immunity ‘will block a second peak in several months’ time’.
But he tweeted a series of questions showing scepticism for the policy, including: ‘Will it impair efforts to restrict the immediate epidemic, and cause more infections and deaths in the near term? Evidence suggests people shed virus early, and those without symptoms may cause substantial spread…’
He also questioned whether ‘coronavirus cause strong herd immunity or is it like flu where new strains emerge each year needing repeat vaccines? We have much to learn about Co-V immune responses.’
He said there was also an argument to see what happened in China, where the epidemic there has been contained ‘after 7 weeks of intense national effort’.
Labour has urged the government to be more transparent with the public about the science behind its decision making.