During the ongoing inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic, Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, revealed some significant findings. One of the key revelations was the concern expressed by scientists regarding the “Eat Out to Help Out” discount scheme implemented in the summer of 2020. The scheme, initiated by Rishi Sunak’s Treasury, aimed to promote patronage of restaurants and cafes. However, Vallance stated that this scheme went against earlier advice to reduce mixing between households and would inevitably increase infection levels.
Contrary to Vallance’s claims, written evidence from Sunak stated that no concerns about the scheme were raised during ministerial discussions attended by Vallance and Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England. However, Vallance maintained that the increased transmission risk associated with the scheme would have been apparent to anyone, including ministers.
In another revelation, Sir Patrick Vallance expressed his views on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s understanding of scientific concepts related to Covid-19. Acknowledging Johnson’s limited scientific background, Vallance explained that it was a challenge to ensure the prime minister grasped critical Covid-related concepts, such as the flattening of infection rate curves through lockdown measures. He mentioned instances when Johnson struggled to comprehend graphs and often pretended to misunderstand, testing alternative explanations.
Moreover, Vallance emphasized that not only was this an issue specific to the UK, but also other countries faced similar challenges. In fact, during a group call with scientific advisers from different nations, it was revealed that many leaders struggled to understand exponential curves, generating laughter among the participants.
Additionally, Vallance admitted that the UK government should have implemented lockdown measures earlier. Despite the official announcement of the lockdown on March 23, 2020, Vallance asserted that by March 14-15, it had become evident that swift action was necessary. He cited data from that weekend, indicating a higher number of cases and faster acceleration than anticipated. Recognizing the delay, Vallance emphasized the need to have initiated the measures as quickly as possible.
During the inquiry, it was also disclosed that Vallance faced reprimand for urging swift action during a ministerial meeting in mid-March. Chris Wormald, the top civil servant at the health department, expressed his anger, claiming that Vallance should have followed proper protocols. However, Vallance defended his actions, stating that he believed he did the right thing given the circumstances.
Q: What was the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme?
A: The “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme was a discount initiative introduced by the UK government in the summer of 2020 to encourage people to dine at restaurants and cafes.
Q: Was the UK government aware of the risks associated with the discount scheme?
A: Sir Patrick Vallance claims that it was obvious to anyone, including ministers, that the scheme would increase the risk of transmission.
Q: Did Boris Johnson struggle to understand scientific concepts related to Covid-19?
A: Yes, according to Vallance, Johnson admitted that science was not his forte, and he occasionally pretended to misunderstand concepts to explore alternative possibilities.
Q: Should the UK government have implemented lockdown measures earlier?
A: Sir Patrick Vallance believes that the government should have acted sooner, as data from mid-March 2020 indicated a higher number of cases and faster spread than initially expected.