Scientist slams PM’s strategy to win ‘cheap headlines’ over lockdown easing as he praises Sturgeon approach

PUBLISHED: 17:17 10 July 2020 | UPDATED: 17:48 10 July 2020

Boris Johnson drinks a pint of beer on a visit to the St Austell Brewery in Cornwall, during a Vote Leave campaign visit. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Boris Johnson drinks a pint of beer on a visit to the St Austell Brewery in Cornwall, during a Vote Leave campaign visit. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

PA Archive/PA Images

Boris Johnson’s strategy for easing lockdown has been about ‘cheap headlines’, a scientist has claimed, as he praised Scotland’s approach.

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Professor Stephen Reicher criticised the Westminster government over its approach to easing restrictions, claiming the “drift” plan consisted of “ad hoc openings” and “cheap headlines”.

And he told a briefing that Scotland had taken an “elimination strategy”, focused on driving infection rates as low as possible before taking action.

The scientist was speaking in his capacity as a member of Independent Sage, a group set up by former government chief scientific adviser Sir David King.

He said: “In Scotland we’ve seen such a clear strategy, clearly articulated, elimination is the aim and all objectives are geared towards driving things as low as possible.


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“In England the UK government hasn’t been clear about the strategy, we don’t see any particular strategy, some people talk about herd immunity by default, but nothing has been articulated at all.

“Instead we see a series of ad hoc openings, we see a series of ad hoc relaxations before we have an adequate test and trace system, so I think it’s better to characterise it as drift rather than a precise strategy.

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“So one of the clearest differences between Scotland and England is the difference between an elimination strategy and just drift.”

Prof Reicher said Scotland has been “more careful” and is trying to drive infections so low that when the economy reopens, it does so “properly and fully”.

He added: “So a clear strategy, a slow, cautious, measured approach to reopening and very clear public messaging around that.

“The messaging throughout has been not to go for quick cheap headlines and ‘Super Saturday’ or ‘Independence Day’, but to remind people we’re in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

“We need to be cautious, we need to wear face masks, and indeed from today face masks will be compulsory in shops in Scotland.

“In so doing, not only stopping the spread of infection but sending a very clear message to people, we’re still in the midst of a deadly pandemic.”

It comes after first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a relaxation of the rules allowing people to mix indoors and confirming plans for bars, restaurants and hairdressers to reopen.

The most recent estimate is that 1,000 people in Scotland are infectious, Sturgeon said, and the “prevalence of the virus in Scotland is at this stage several times lower than it is across the UK as a whole”.

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