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Role of No10’s scientific panel SAGE ‘will be reviewed after the pandemic’

Britain’s top scientific advisory committee will be reviewed over fears it holds too much sway over the Government’s decisions, it was claimed today. 

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which has guided ministers through the pandemic, has been accused of using dubious data to persuade No10 into locking the country down and prolonging curbs. 

Much of the criticism has been aimed at SAGE’s pessimistic modelling of the crisis, which forecast an astonishing 500,000 deaths in the first wave and warned of 4,000 Covid victims per day this winter. 

There have been 125,000 Covid fatalities in the UK in total and daily deaths peaked at around 1,300 in mid-January. 

Government sources last night told The Telegraph a future independent inquiry into the handling of Covid is expected to probe whether SAGE held too much power. 

They said that up until now, the panel’s advice had been taken as gospel with little scrutiny over its decision-making. The source claimed No10 is discussing plans to form a ‘red team’, which would challenge and fact check SAGE’s advice.

Critics of the expert panel, headed by Sir Patrick Vallance, have also warned there has been a lack of diversity of opinion.  

It has led to the formation of a number of a number of scientific spin-out groups, including Independent SAGE, which claims No10’s experts have not been tough enough, and the Great Barrington Declaration, a group of lockdown-sceptic scientists. 

It comes after a bombshell account of the Government’s handling of the pandemic claimed Boris Johnson suggested the UK should ‘ignore’ coronavirus when it was spreading in China at the start of last year.

The Prime Minister was said to have been wary of an overreaction to the disease, according to a behind-the-scenes report by the BBC

The role of SAGE – headed by Sir Patrick Vallance (right) and Professor Chris Whitty (left) – will be reviewed, it has been claimed

SAGE was initially set up to provide ‘coherent, coordinated advice’ on the science surrounding pandemics and other emergencies.

It was a little-known body before the Covid crisis, and had only occasionally been called upon to assist in decision making.

SAGE relied on data from Wikipedia to advise No10

No10’s scientific advisers relied on dubious data from Wikipedia to help steer Britain through the spring’s coronavirus crisis.

Members of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) admitted early virus modelling was based on unverified figures from the online encyclopedia, which can be edited and managed by members of the public.  

In an explosive BBC documentary last November, Professor Ian Hall, deputy chair of the SAGE subgroup SPI-M, said: ‘The public may be surprised that we were using Wikipedia to get data very early on in the pandemic, but that was really the only data that was publicly available that we could access.’    

The BBC film also claimed that that Government advisers ‘never checked’ the impact agency workers would have on spreading Covid in care homes by moving between several different sites. More than 25,000 people died with coronavirus in care homes last year.  

Liverpool University Professor Calum Semple, a member of another SAGE sub-committee called NERVTAG, added: ‘Quite a few of us had read the literature for SARS and MERS but there was no particular specialist who has just focused their entire life on human coronaviruses.’   

It first met in 2009 for the swine flu pandemic, and then in 2014 to advise on Ebola, in 2016 over Zika and in 2018 over the Salisbury poisoning. 

It met only once in 2019 amid concerns the Toddbrook Reservoir dam in Derbyshire would collapse, according to The Telegraph. 

But since the pandemic began it has held 74 meetings, with its first held two weeks after the first cases of the virus emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

Attendance varies between meetings, with scientists needing to have received an invite from Sir Patrick and the chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty. 

Ministers have privately admitted they were ‘too reliant’ on advice from SAGE at the start of the pandemic.

SAGE members admitted the group relied on dubious data from Wikipedia to help steer Britain through last spring’s  crisis 

And yesterday close allies of Boris Johnson claimed SAGE’s out-of-date data last spring led the delay of the first lockdown and cost thousands of lives.

The group also said there was ‘no evidence’ large gatherings could spread the disease, just five days before last year’s Cheltenham Festival was due to begin – which became a super-spreading event.   

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also previously said the role of SAGE will be reviewed, with many of its tasks taken over by the secretive Joint Biosecurity Centre.

Little is known about the JBC, which is run out of the Cabinet Office where Michael Gove is the responsible minister. It is unclear how much engagement the JBC has with independent scientists.

The Government is under pressure to carry out a public inquiry into its handling of the Covid pandemic.  

Britain has suffered the highest virus death toll in Europe, and the fifth highest death toll in the world.

Experts say two of the most obvious failures were leaving the country’s borders open when the virus was spiralling in Europe and sending untested hospital patients into care homes.

Boris Johnson has promised to carry out an independent inquiry — but claims this should not be started until the outbreak is fully under control.

Boris Johnson ‘suggested the UK should “ignore” coronavirus at the start of pandemic’ and ‘disregarded advice on not shaking hands’

Boris Johnson suggested the UK should ‘ignore’ coronavirus when it was spreading in China at the start of last year, a bombshell account of the Government’s handling of the pandemic has claimed.

The Prime Minister was said to have been wary of an overreaction to the disease, according to a behind-the-scenes report by the BBC.

The report, based on conversations with a raft of senior figures, also claimed that Mr Johnson ignored advice on not shaking hands in the early stages of the pandemic.

It claimed Mr Johnson had been prepared by aides to tell the nation to stop shaking hands at a briefing on March 3 last year.

The PM was said to have been prepared to answer the question, should it have been asked by a journalist, but when the moment came he said the opposite.

He said at the time: ‘I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody and I continue to shake hands.’


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