'Publish Sage advice now to find where UK got Covid-19 wrong'

A week ago Jeremy Hunt, the chair of the health select committee review of the UK’s Covid-19 response, said that some actions represented “the biggest failure of scientific advice to ministers in our lifetime”. And it simply didn’t listen to advice from the World HealthOrganization’sdirector-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who, when declaring a pandemic on 11 March, said: “The idea that countries should shift from containment to mitigation iswrongand dangerous.” Understanding these discussions and decisions must come from the accurate, full and public release of the Sage meeting minutes from 28 January up to the present day. Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said the minuteswould be released when the epidemic is over – we are coming towards the end of the coronavirus surge, so that time is now. If independent public health experts had not been excluded from the core committee, which is dominated by modellers, virologists, clinical academics and behavioural scientists, the influenza-driven “herd immunity” strategy might not have materialised. Those minutes have assumed greater importance given the slow and fragmented response by the UK in mounting a sustainable and locally integrated system for finding, testing, tracing and isolating Covid-19 cases. As an editorial in last week’s British Medical Journaldeclared: “Meaningless political soundbites promising to recruit 18,000 contact tracers, test 200,000 people a day, or invest in unjustified contact tracing apps, divert focus andcould leadto more deaths.” The government has thus far provided the names of 60 contributors to Sage – but its core decision-making group should also be listed. The public deserves the hard data, scientific opinions and theminutes of Sage meetings – not recollections in the media from senior members – to help us all understand how we got here.