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THE “reckless” government was accused today of putting the country at risk following reports that it ignored scientists’ advice to implement a full “circuit-breaker” coronavirus lockdown.
The fallout came as MPs were poised to vote on the 10pm pub and restaurant curfew and the so-called “rule of six.” The vote took place after the Morning Star went to print.
Before the vote, a number of MPs — including Tories — voiced concerns after it emerged that the government dismissed suggestions from its own scientists, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), to have a two-week national lockdown.
Newly released documents show that, at a meeting on September 21, Sage called for the short lockdown in England.
The group also said that all university and college teaching should take place online.
University College Union general secretary Jo Grady said that the union had been calling for this since August — before thousands of students contracted the virus and had to self-isolate.
She said: “The chaos we see on campus and in halls of residence now is a direct result of ministers’ decision to ignore that advice and choose to put the health of university staff, students and local communities at risk.”
In the documents, Sage warned the government that “not acting now to reduce cases will result in a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences.”
Out of the advice, only the recommendation for people who can work from home to do so was taken up by government at the time.
Labour described the revelations in the document as “alarming,” with shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth calling for an explanation.
Labour MP Zarah Sultana said that ignoring Sage showed a “reckless disregard for public health.”
Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy questioned why the government had claimed it was following scientific advice when now it had emerged that it was not.
She added that countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Vietnam have been successful in eliminating the virus by adopting a “zero-Covid strategy.”
At a press conference on Monday evening, PM Boris Johnson said the new tiered alert system for England taking effect on Wednesday could succeed in driving cases down if it was implemented “very effectively.”
He rejected the “extreme route” of a full nationwide lockdown “right now.”
But at the same briefing, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty voiced concerns over the impact of the new rules, saying he was not confident the “base measures” in the highest tier “would be enough to get on top of” the virus.
“That is why there’s a lot of flexibility for local authorities … to do significantly more,” he said.
Tory MP Caroline Nokes told ITV News that she had questioned Mr Johnson’s move to “very obviously ignore” scientific advice, warning that the government “may look back on that decision and regret it.” She also expressed concern over what she called a “mix-and-match” approach to dealing with the virus.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has insisted the government had taken “robust action” to limit the spread of the virus that “balanced” the impact on the economy.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer backed Sage’s calls for a “two-to-three week” blanket lockdown. He said that the government had “lost control of the virus” and that now a “package of stringent measures is urgently needed.”
Meanwhile, the latest Office for National Statistics figures showed there were 343 deaths involving coronavirus registered in the week to October 2 — a figure that has been doubling every fortnight over the last month.
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