Ministers acting quicker would have made a ‘big difference’ to coronavirus death rate, says SAGE scientist

PUBLISHED: 12:19 22 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:19 22 May 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands in Downing Street to join in the applause to salute local heroes during Thursday's nationwide Clap for Carers. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands in Downing Street to join in the applause to salute local heroes during Thursday's nationwide Clap for Carers. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire.

Ministers acting quicker would have made a ‘big difference’ to the coronavirus, a member of the SAGE scientific advisory group scientist has claimed.

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Sir Ian Boyd told the BBC’s Coronavirus Newscast podcast that the number one issue is whether ministers could have acted earlier.

He said he believes that some politicians “would have loved” to have reacted earlier, but that they thought it would not be feasible.

Sir Ian said: “Acting very early was really important and I would have loved to have seen us acting a week or two weeks earlier and it would have made quite a big difference to the steepness of the curve of infection and therefore the death rate.

“And I think that’s really the number one issue, could we have acted earlier? Were the signs there earlier on?”


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He continued: “One could point the finger at ministers and politicians for not being willing to listen to scientific advice.

“You could point the finger at scientists for not actually being explicit enough.

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“But at the end of the day all these interact with public opinion as well.

“And I think some politicians would have loved to have reacted earlier but in their political opinion it probably wasn’t feasible because people wouldn’t have perhaps responded in the way they eventually did.”

Sir Ian also said that he believes the statement “we are guided by the science” is slightly misleading.

He explained: “I don’t think ministers intend it to be misleading.

“I think they intend it to help to provide trust in what they are saying.

“And quite rightly so.

“Basically what we in the scientific community do is give the best advice we can based on the evidence that’s available to us.

“We then pass it to government ministers and the policy parts of government who can then take that and do with it what they like within the policy context.”

His comments come after Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute, said that the country had been “increasingly playing catch-up”.

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