Grant Shapps has claimed he had to do his own research and bring his spreadsheets to Cabinet meetings to counter the partial and skewed information being supplied by SAGE scientists and block plans for a Covid lockdown last Christmas. The Telegraph has the story.
Mr. Shapps, the Transport Secretary, told the Telegraph he made his own spreadsheets based on international data and sometimes presented his findings at Cabinet and Covid-O ministerial meetings to bolster resistance to further restrictions.
He said this proved effective in countering pressure for a potential lockdown last Christmas in response to the threat from the Omicron variant.
“I was able to present data based on three South African studies which wasn’t available from the standard SAGE presentation. In a close-run discussion, we didn’t lock down. The NHS wasn’t overrun,” said Mr. Shapps…
Mr. Shapps, who is supporting the former Chancellor [Rishi Sunak] in the leadership contest, said that at the start of the Covid crisis “there was of course no instruction manual for dealing with the first pandemic of modern times”, adding: “We all learnt as we went along.
“As ministers gained in confidence, we did get to the point of being able to understand and analyse the data much better. In fact, I would construct spreadsheets based on international data and sometimes present my findings at Cabinet and Covid-O meetings.
“This analysis was particularly relevant when it came to talk about a Christmas 2021 lockdown.”
At that time, Boris Johnson was under pressure from Sage scientists to go further than masks in shops and public transport and home working, but rejected calls for the cancellation of Christmas parties and other festive events.
“I’d taken the time to read three South African research reports into Omicron. I checked the research and then turned the data into my own spreadsheet to come up with my own version of the likely trajectory,” said Mr. Shapps.
Worth reading in full.
Note that Shapps is only claiming to have been against lockdown for Omicron owing to its reduced virulence. He is not rowing back on earlier lockdowns, adding it “wasn’t a decision that ministers would have been able to make earlier in the coronavirus crisis”.
Shapps’s account of having to counter the skewed doom-mongering of SAGE shows once again the urgent need for Government to introduce much better ways of receiving scientific advice during emergencies. There is a clear need to ensure wider perspectives both from other disciplines like economics and other scientific voices who look at the data differently to ensure ministers are getting a full picture and not just the one preferred by those on a particular committee. The next Prime Minister, whether Rishi Sunak or, more likely, Liz Truss, should be pressed on a commitment to put in place a better scientific advisory process than the one which let us down so badly during Covid.