Minister suggests scientific advice was to blame for government mistakes in pandemic response

PUBLISHED: 10:11 19 May 2020 | UPDATED: 10:19 19 May 2020

Therese Coffey appears on Sky News. Photograph: Sky News.

Therese Coffey appears on Sky News. Photograph: Sky News.

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A government minister has refused to accept five times that they had made mistakes in the coronavirus response, but instead appeared to blame scientists if there had been faults.

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Therese Coffey was challenged by Sky News’ Kay Burley over the government’s broken promises and missed targets during the crisis as well as the care home responses.

She called on the Tory MP to admit there were mistakes made along the way in the Covid-19 pandemic response.

“You got it wrong, didn’t you? It’s OK to say yes,” Burley told Coffey.

The minister shrugged off the suggestion and listed steps that had been taken to help those in care homes, which enabled those working in the homes as well, as the residents, to get tests.


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Asked again about getting the advice wrong, the minister said it was “based on the advice given to us at that moment by scientists”.

“As our scientists begin to learn more, understand more., can start to see more happening, they can change that advice and it’s on that basis ministers can choose to change policy or guidance”.

Burley pointed to comments by Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, who said “we are simply doing what the scientists tell us is not an acceptable response from politicians”.

Coffey denied that was the government’s approach but that ministers were “listening to the science and trying to understand the science” before taking steps.

“It is for ministers to decide on policy, but we have tried to take every step of the way making sure that we listen to the science and understand the science and make decisions based on that”.

She added: “I think that’s what the British public would expect”.

The presenter pointed out that the British public would expect ministers to say if they had got something wrong, “a bit like president Macron did in France”.

As the minister tried to cover the same old ground, Burley pressed Coffey a fourth time.

“You can only make judgements and decisions based on the information and advice you have at the time...” responded the minister.

Asked a fifth time, she added: “Well if the science was wrong, the advice at the time was wrong, I’m not surprised if people think we made the wrong decision”.

Burley noted that the “scientists getting it wrong again”, before Coffey denied that was her point.

“No not at all, I did a PhD in chemistry myself,” she explained.

Viewers reacted with frustration at the minister’s comments.

“Science/Health experts: get ready to be thrown under one of Johnson’s buses,” said one.

“Part of the Tory government’s strategy to blame their advisers. More of the same to come, I imagine. Also, note not a flicker of emotion or remorse regarding Covid-19 in care homes,” tweeted David Head.

“Coffey’s description of the role of scientific advice is clear and non-bullshitty. Weird to have a minister who isn’t afraid of talking to voters as if they’re intelligent,” posted Ian Leslie.

Fellow Sky journalist Sam Coates noted: “This likely to make the case for publishing Sage *advice* - as opposed to research papers which do occasionally go up on website - much stronger”.

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