Patrick Vallance refutes Labour Brexiteer's claims about Covid lockdown data

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance giving evidence to the Science and Technology Select C

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance giving evidence to the Science and Technology Select Committee at the House of Commons, London, on the subject of UK Science, Research and Technology Capability and Influence in Global Disease Outbreaks. - Credit: PA

Sir Patrick Vallance has hit back at suggestions by a Brexiteer that he was attempting to scare people into lockdown with gloomy data on Covid infection rates.

Appearing in front a Commons committee on Covid-19, Vallance, who sits on the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said the figures were a "scenario" of what could happen, and not a prediction, and that previous "scenarios" had turned out to be right.

Labour's Graham Stringer asked the professor if the models predicting 4,000 deaths a day from the virus had been developed to “frighten a lot of people around the country”.

"I hope not," cut in Vallance. "It's certainly not the aim.

"In a sense, we went through this a bit during September 20 and 21 when we said we thought things could be heading towards 50,000 cases per day, if we had a doubling - again, it was a scenario, not a prediction - and that deaths might reach 200.

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"The same argument that that was somehow there scare people. It wasn't. It was there to give us a scenario and as it happens, the numbers ended up being very close to that by the time we got there.

"So it’s very difficult to project forward in a way that doesn’t inevitably lead to the problem of ‘Is that real?’ No, it’s not real, it’s a model, but it is what we need to understand because this is a disease which is spreading like all epidemics, in a way that will affect us in weeks to come but isn’t felt today."

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He said the data "balanced trying to explain what may be coming based on things as far as possible on what data you have today, which is why things were presented as they were because here are data from today but giving illustration of what may happen in the future [which] is important because of the tendency to wait, by which time you've baked in another few weeks of cases."

This came after chief medical officer Chris Whitty told the committee that there was an “exponential curve” in the number of hospital beds being occupied.

He told panellists that on September 7 there were 536 inpatient cases – at the beginning of October it was around 2,500 and “as of today it’s actually breached 10,000 people in hospital”.

“You don’t need too much modelling to tell you that you are on an exponential upward curve of beds,” he said.

Professor Chris Whitty said while infection rates have fallen among younger people, who are less likely to become seriously ill with coronavirus, the same cannot be said for older people.

Twitter users questioned Stringer's line of interrogation.

Writer and actor Alex Andreou called stringer's questioning "bizarre". He tweeted: "Bizarre line of questioning by 'lockdown-sceptic', Labour MP Graham Stringer, suggesting graphs are 'biased' and an attempt to 'frighten people' who don't understand them. Vallance reminds him that the same was said of the daily 50k cases/200 deaths scenario graph in September."

James Summer wrote: "I didn't know Graham Stringer was a 'lockdown-sceptic' but of *course* he is, given his track record on the existence of climate change, Brexit harms, dyslexia, etc. I suspect if you confronted him with evidence that his name was Graham Stringer, he'd announce he was Frank Field."

Rob Wright added: "One question that has never been answered: in whose interest would it be to exaggerate the models? The government aren't putting us through this for fun. They wouldn't want to have to spend all this money if they didn't think they had to. It is ridiculous to suggest otherwise."

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