Nobel prize winning scientist questions who is really in charge of government coronavirus decisions

Scientific expert Sir Paul Nurse claims that ministers were 'on the backfoot' when it came to dealin

Scientific expert Sir Paul Nurse claims that ministers were 'on the backfoot' when it came to dealing with the coronavirus - Credit: Archant

A Nobel prize winning scientist has slammed the government as being 'on the back foot' over its coronavirus response.

Sir Paul Nurse appeared on BBC Radio 4's Today programme when he accused the government of mishandling its coronavirus strategy.

The Francis Crick Institute director said ministers had been 'increasingly playing catch-up' over ways to contain the virus.


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'I'm not quite sure we are getting it right,' he said. '...politicians, the scientists and the doctors - we're all making mistakes.'

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He added: 'I get a sense the UK has been rather too much on the back foot, increasingly playing catch-up, firefighting us through successive crises.'

Sir Paul then slammed the government for abandoning mass testing early on in the epidemic saying the move made hospitals 'potentially unsafe places'.

'For a long time it has been clear that people without symptoms can be infected and therefore be infectious to other people,' he said.

'And yet in the hospitals and in the care homes we haven't been testing such people.

'So we have been allowing people, care workers, to be in the ward, who are potentially infected, infecting patients, infecting themselves, and as a consequence making hospitals potentially unsafe places to be.

'We have to see a changed strategy there that is reliant upon the real evidence.'

The former Royal Society president also questioned who in government was responsible for managing the crisis.

'The question I keep asking myself is: Do we have a proper government system in here that can combine tentative knowledge, scientific knowledge, with political action?

'Who is actually in charge of the decisions? Who is developing the strategy and the operation and implementation of that strategy?

'Is it ministers? Is it Public Health England? The National Health Service? The Office for Life Scientists, SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies)? I don't know, but more importantly, do they know?'

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