Government accused of ‘hiding behind scientists’ in its response to coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 09:45 20 April 2020 | UPDATED: 09:54 20 April 2020

Piers Morgan interviews culture secretary Oliver Dowden about the government's handling of coronavirus on Good Morning Britain. Photograph: ITV.

Piers Morgan interviews culture secretary Oliver Dowden about the government's handling of coronavirus on Good Morning Britain. Photograph: ITV.

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The government has been accused of ‘hiding behind scientists’ over the coronavirus outbreak at a time when there is ‘chronic failure of commonsense and leadership’.

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The allegations were made by Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan when he interviewed Oliver Dowden over his decision to allow the Cheltenham festival to go ahead days before the lockdown was implemented by the government.

Morgan replayed a clip of Dowden on the 9th March saying that the government was “not in the territory of cancelling or postponing events” after attending Twickenham with the prime minister, while Italy was preparing for mass-quarantine.

Day before 16 million people in Italy were quarantined because so many people were dying. And yet the next day you go on the airwaves and you actively encourage Britons to attend mass-gatherings, 250,000 at the Cheltenham, 50,000 at the Liverpool Atletico Madrid when Madrid fans weren’t even allowed to go to the games at home because of the scale of the crisis and yet we flew in 3,000 and said come to the Liverpool match, Stereophonics gigs all week.

“That is because you as a government actively sent people out to get infected. Why?”


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Dowden said he was “aware of the situation going on in Italy at the time” but “based it on scientific evidence”.

“The scientific evidence we were being given was at a mass-gathering the threat at a mass-gathering relate to those immediately surround you, the people in front of you and the people behind you. The threat at mass-gathering was no more or no less than it would have been in pubs or restaurants. At that point the advice was we did not need to ban mass-gatherings”.

Morgan pointed out that advice “was just plain wrong” and that as a result we do not know many people died. Similarly he had a grievance with the airports remaining open and people arriving in the country without being tested.

“Well in relation to all of these we are basing our decisions on the advice and evidence given to us by scientists,” repeated the minister, prompting Morgan to look distinctly unimpressed.

“Why do you keep you hiding behind scientists?” asks Morgan. “I understood the government’s job was to listen to all expert advice and then make decisions.

MORE: Coronavirus blame games – who really benefits?

“What it seems to me here is we’ve had a chronic failure of common sense and leadership by our government, it obviously made no sense on the day after Italy quarantined 16 million people, that we send hundreds of thousands to mass-gatherings.

“It obviously makes no sense right now to allow people to come in from countries like Italy, China, New York, and other hot spots around the world into our country with no testing.

“None of this makes sense to people, and yet you keep saying ‘well we are just following the science.

“How can the science be right when it’s clearly so against what most other countries are doing.”

Dowden said ministers were “relying on expert advice being given to them”.

The presenter however questioned whether the experts could “they’ve been wrong and that’s why we’ve been so late on this and that’s why we can’t get the PPE and that’s why 80 people have died on the frontline because of this.

“Could it just be the medical scientific advice you have been getting, which has been contradicted by many other top experts in this country by the way, that the advice you have been blindly following has been wrong.”

The culture secretary insisted he had not been “blindly following” advice, and that he was not relying on the advice of one expert alone, saying they “take advice from a range of expert advice”.

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