Sir Patrick Vallance privately referred to his colleague Sir Chris Whitty as “a delayer” after “palpable tension” between the two scientific advisers emerged about lockdown policy, the Covid Inquiry has heard. The Telegraph has more.
Sir Patrick, the Chief Scientific Adviser during the pandemic, said he wanted to introduce the first national lockdown more quickly than Sir Chris, who was worried about the number of deaths from the knock-on effects of shuttering the country.
It led to “friction” between the two men, who regularly stood either side of the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson at daily press conferences to keep the public informed.
Mr. Johnson, who was instinctively against the idea of lockdowns, has been accused by some critics of failing to prevent deaths by reacting too slowly to the emerging threat from coronavirus.
But the U.K. COVID-19 Inquiry heard that his two most senior scientific advisers did not agree with each other about the best way forward.
The Inquiry was shown an entry from the diary of Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the SAGE group of scientific advisers chaired by Sir Patrick, in which he talked of the “friction” between the two experts and described “a palpable tension between Patrick and Chris in the early weeks of 2020, particularly given the apparent absence of political leadership in that period”.
Sir Patrick made an entry in his own diary in February 2021 in which Sir Chris had spoken to him about the inquiry they knew was coming, and whether the lockdown in March 2020 had been imposed too late. He wrote: “He was a delayer of course.”
Sir Patrick told the inquiry in London that Sir Chris was a public health specialist and was rightly concerned about the impact of what were termed non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as telling people to stay at home. …
Sir Patrick said he did not personally have the same worry, as: “I was more on the side of we need to move on this, but I think that’s partly why the two of us found it useful to work together… I think sometimes I would want to push and he might not, and sometimes he was right and sometimes I think we should have gone earlier. This was an occasion when I think it’s clear that we should have gone earlier.”
Separately in his written witness statement Vallance has made clear that “the most important lesson that I learned and stated repeatedly from the first lockdown onwards, in respect to the timing of interventions, was that you had to go earlier than you would like, harder than you would like and broader than you would like”. He added:
As I mentioned, in the first wave I think we didn’t go early enough and there was a trickling of measures when I think we should have gone with more measures simultaneously. …
So my rider that it’s ‘than you would like to’ is very clear, and that is because the observation I made was that everyone’s instinct is to not to do any of these things.
It’s to delay just a bit too much, it’s to argue that the measures shouldn’t be quite as strict at the moment – and we saw this very clearly during October, where every MP argued that their areas shouldn’t be in a higher tier, they should be in a lower tier.
So, everyone’s arguing to do things just a little bit less than they should do.
The Telegraph‘s Gordon Rayner adds that “the inquiry is not questioning whether lockdowns should have happened at all”. Ain’t that the truth. And doesn’t it show the danger we’re in, when the U.K.’s official Covid Inquiry doesn’t think the question of whether lockdown was the right policy is even worth the time of day.
Stop Press: Vallance also admitted there is “no such thing as ‘the science'”. “Science by its definition is a moving body of knowledge that tries to overturn things by testing the whole time,” he said. That’s odd, because the Government told me it was about a consensus that supports its political agenda.