As the UK holds an inquiry into its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, provided significant insights during his testimonies on Monday. From concerns regarding the “Eat out to help out” scheme to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s scientific comprehension, here are key takeaways from Vallance’s evidence.
Scientists Raise Alarm on the Discount Scheme
One notable discussion during the inquiry revolved around the “Eat out to help out” discount scheme implemented by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the summer of 2020. Vallance revealed that scientists expressed worry about the scheme, as it went against earlier advice to reduce household mixing and would inevitably lead to increased infection rates.
Although Sunak stated in written evidence that he did not recall any concerns being expressed, Vallance remarked that it would have been evident to anyone that this scheme carried transmission risks. While uncertain about Sunak’s attendance at specific meetings, Vallance stressed that any minister should have grasped the inherent dangers associated with the scheme.
Boris Johnson’s Grasp of Science
In regards to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s scientific understanding, Vallance shared that it was often challenging to convey crucial concepts related to the pandemic. Johnson’s scientific background was limited, as he last studied the subject at the age of 15. Vallance further explained that Johnson sometimes pretended to misunderstand ideas to ascertain alternative possibilities.
Diary entries from Vallance indicated that Johnson had difficulty comprehending graphs and was frequently perplexed by modeling. Vallance added that similar struggles were observed among leaders from other countries during a group call with scientific advisers.
Hindsight on Lockdown Timing
Vallance acknowledged that, with the benefit of hindsight, the UK should have initiated the first lockdown earlier than the announced date of March 23, 2020. He emphasized that data from the weekend of March 14-15 indicated a more significant number of cases and accelerated transmission rates. He stated, “This was an occasion when I think it’s clear that we should have gone earlier.”
Reflecting on his own actions, Vallance mentioned that he faced reprimands for calling for swift action during a ministerial meeting in mid-March. Chris Wormald, the top civil servant at the health department, expressed anger, and Mark Sedwill, the then-cabinet secretary, was also annoyed. Despite the criticism, Vallance maintained that it was crucial to raise the urgency of the situation at that time.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
1. What was the “Eat out to help out” scheme?
The “Eat out to help out” scheme was a discount initiative introduced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the summer of 2020. It aimed to encourage people to dine at restaurants and cafes by offering discounted meals on specific days of the week.
2. Why was there concern about the scheme?
Scientists expressed concerns about the scheme because it contradicted earlier advice to reduce household mixing. They believed that the scheme would inevitably lead to increased infection rates due to higher levels of interaction in public spaces like restaurants and cafes.
3. What were Sir Patrick Vallance’s views on Boris Johnson’s scientific understanding?
Vallance noted that Johnson’s scientific comprehension was limited since he last studied science at age 15. Vallance also mentioned that Johnson sometimes pretended to misunderstand concepts to explore alternative explanations.
4. When does Sir Patrick Vallance believe the UK should have initiated the first lockdown?
Vallance believes that, in hindsight, the UK should have implemented the first lockdown earlier than the announced date of March 23, 2020. He stated that the data from the weekend of March 14-15 showed a higher number of cases and a faster spread of the virus than previously anticipated.
5. How did Sir Patrick Vallance face reprimand during the pandemic?
After calling for swift action during a mid-March ministerial meeting, Vallance faced criticism from Chris Wormald, the top civil servant at the health department, and Mark Sedwill, the then-cabinet secretary. They expressed concerns about the manner in which Vallance raised the issue, but Vallance asserts that it was necessary to convey the urgency of the situation.