Robert Dingwall

Did the Government and its Advisors Implement Measures Proportionate to the Risk, Asks Chair of New Cross-Party Group of MPs and Peers

As the Government sets out its ‘toolbox’ for its “winter plan” which continues to hold out the threat of new restrictions, a new cross-party group of MPs and Peers has formed to hold ministers’ feet to the fire.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Pandemic Response and Recovery brings together parliamentarians of all parties from both Houses of Parliament to examine the impact on society of the Government’s pandemic policy.

The group says that its aim is to provide a forum for scientists, health professionals and other experts to engage in broad, balanced and open discussion to inform a more focused and flexible approach to Government policy. It seeks to point the way to new approaches to pandemic management which prevent avoidable suffering and loss in the future. 

The Pandemic APPG is an officially registered Parliamentary Group co-chaired by Rt Hon Esther McVey MP (Conservative) and Graham Stringer MP (Labour). MPs on the Group include Conservatives Sir Charles Walker, Sir Graham Brady and Miriam Cates, Labour’s Derek Twigg and Emma Lewell-Buck, the Democratic Unionist Party’s Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley. Peers on the group include Independent Baroness Fox of Buckley and Conservative Baroness Foster of Oxton, DBE.

Addressing its inaugural meeting, which took place on Wednesday September 8th, Robert Dingwall, Professor of Sociology at Nottingham Trent University and a former NERVTAG and JCVI member, and Dr John Lee, retired Consultant Histopathologist and former Clinical Professor of Pathology at Hull York Medical School, urged a fresh approach to policy making. 

Professor Dingwall commented:

Every policy measure to mitigate the pandemic has come with costs. We must test any ongoing measures, especially non-pharmaceutical interventions, against what we once thought necessary and assess the genuine risks. It is time also, to foster wider public debate that broadens the Government’s scientific advice network to involve a whole-of-science approach.

A good society is defined by life, health, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not by the prevention of one disease alone.

Dr. John Lee added:

No Reason to Delay the End of Lockdown, Says Professor Robert Dingwall

Despite all the doom and gloom about the impact of the Indian Delta Covid variant, Robert Dingwall, Professor of Sociology at Nottingham Trent University and member of Government advisory group NERVTAG, says there is no reason to delay the end of lockdown. Professor Dingwall told Times Radio (as quoted in the Guardian) that “we have to push on” with unlocking because Covid no longer poses a great threat to society, whereas the “collateral damage” of lockdown does.

Personally, I don’t see any case for delay… from a societal point of view, I think it’s really important that we go ahead on June 21st, and I’ve not really seen anything in the data that would lead me to doubt that as a proposition on the evidence to date.

I think we need to recognise the way in which levels of fear and anxiety in the population have been amplified over the last 15 months or so.

We’ve got to look at the collateral damage in terms of untreated cancers, untreated heart conditions, all of the other things that people suffer from.

We’ve got to think about the impact of economic damage that would be caused by further periods of delay and uncertainty…

He added that because of the successful vaccine rollout, a slight increase in cases (due to the Indian variant) does not warrant the continuation of strict lockdown restrictions.

By the time we get to June 21st, everybody who is in the nine priority groups or the highest risk will have had both jabs, and would have had a period of time to consolidate the immunity.

What are we going on with is really running into younger age groups who are intrinsically much lower risk. Many of the scientists who’ve been talking over the weekend simply haven’t adjusted their expectations to understand that – (for these people) Covid is a mild illness in the community.

As the Director of Public Health Bolton was saying last week, the people who are going into hospital… it’s not like January, these are not desperately ill people.

They’re people who need a little bit of extra support with oxygen, they need access to the dexamethasone treatment, which is very effective.

They go in, stay in hospital for three or four days and they go out again. There is no realistic prospect of the NHS facing the sorts of pressures that it faced in January and February. And that’s why I think we have to push on with this.

Appearing on Lucy Johnston’s “Sketch Notes On A Pandemic” podcast on Sunday, Professor Dingwall also said (as flagged in today’s News Round-Up) there has been a “preference… throughout the pandemic to believe in the evidence of modelling rather than the evidence of the world”.

Government NERVTAG Adviser Appears on the BBC Questioning the Models, Masks, Lockdowns and More

Professor Robert Dingwall, perhaps the most sceptical member of Government advisory group NERVTAG (which feeds into SAGE), appeared on BBC Radio 5 on Friday morning to talk to presenter Rachel Burden about the Indian variant, vaccines, models, masks and social distancing. This is about as sceptical as you will get on the BBC, and Rachel finishes by saying “I know there’ll be scientists who disagree with you, but we try and reflect the broad range of views here”, which will come as a surprise to many. Let’s hope she keeps her job after letting such heresy air on the BBC. You can listen here (2:43-2:50) and Lockdown Sceptics readers Teresa Wood and Stuart Robertson have kindly sent us a transcript.

Rachel Burden (0:04): What’s your assessment of how dangerous this variant is at the moment?

Robert Dingwall (0:09): Well I think it is very important not to confuse two things. The first is to say that something is more transmissible does not mean that it’s going to create more severe infection. In a sense you can see this is a trial run for what it means to live with COVID as an endemic infection as we will do in the future, the Indian variant, by saying it’s more transmissible, it’s perhaps easier to catch it, but all the evidence so far is that the vaccines continue to offer very effective protection, and where the infection is clustering in younger people, this is in age groups who are very unlikely to get seriously ill as a result. So we shouldn’t expect to be seeing the sort of waves of hospitalizations, Intensive Care Unit admissions and deaths that we’ve, we’ve seen previously.

Rachel Burden (1:04): Well that’s really encouraging because I was reading some stats this morning that had been produced by SAGE, I think, which was suggesting that if it was X percentage more transmissible that we can be seeing 6,000 hospitalisations in the summer by August and so on and all of that looks really quite alarming, particularly as we’re just beginning to open up, but as we know there is no perfect modelling when it comes to this virus is there?

Robert Dingwall (1:27): Well indeed. One of the problems with the models all along has been the lags between obtaining new data, and understanding for example the linkage between mild infections and hospitalisations, which has changed quite drastically since the beginning of the vaccination programme. So the models are a helpful thing to think with, but we shouldn’t take them as crystal balls. And in this case it really is very hard to see, as the vaccination programme continues to roll on, where all those extra admissions and deaths would come from.

Rachel (2:08): You’re speciality is not specifically for virology, but, but, sociology, but I just wonder with that in mind how do you manage public expectations at a time like this because we’re trying to always find that balance here, myself and Nikki on the show between, you know, reflecting the confidence and positivity people are beginning to feel, that which I think is really important, but with that sort of background anxiety and I suppose some realism that this virus isn’t just going to disappear overnight, and we need to be aware of that still. How do you advise the government to manage public expectations around that.