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27 Apr, 2020 14:39

The UK’s Covid-19 response is being led by a secretive, incompetent cabal. No wonder our policies have been such a shambles

The UK’s Covid-19 response is being led by a secretive, incompetent cabal. No wonder our policies have been such a shambles

The clandestine scientific body SAGE, which has helped shape the British government's Covid-19 policy, has serious questions to answer about corruption, incompetence and chaos.

They were a mysterious cabal of individuals plotting behind closed doors, whispering about initiatives to implement on an unwitting British population.

Now the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) has finally been forced into the light.

Up until a few days ago, their identities were being kept secret because of an alleged fear of being lobbied. Their job is to meet twice a week (on Tuesdays and Thursdays) to discuss Britain's response to Covid-19.

The government's own website lists them as “a formal part of the UK government’s emergency response structure.”

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Now they've been stripped of their camouflage.

But it's no wonder the members of SAGE wanted to remain faceless and lurk in the shadows.

Even though some spin is now being applied to whether he was officially part of SAGE or just attended the meetings, Downing Street data scientist Ben Warner is one of them.

He was in the room, having his say and being part of the discussions.

Anyone with a modicum of awareness will find that shocking, given that his brother Marc has benefited massively from the UK's pandemic response.

Marc's company Faculty has recently been awarded the contract to be part of the new government app, which will mine the confidential data of Covid-19 hospital patients.

The deal was done, bypassing the normal tender process or any parliamentary scrutiny, because ministers used obscure statutory powers given to them in 2015.

Faculty already had a contract in place to help build a £250 million artificial intelligence lab for the NHS.

Ben, who used to work for his brother's company, was recruited by Boris Johnson's right-hand man Dominic Cummings.

It's no surprise to hear that Cummings is also part of SAGE.

Alleged corruption – that’s the first charge which requires answers.

Another indefensible clanger from SAGE involves the 17.5 million antibody tests which the government ordered and paid for from China.

Only, they didn’t work. As Professor John Bell of Public Health England (but not of SAGE) explained: “We see many false negatives… and we also see false positives. This is not a good result for test suppliers or for us.”

The government is now wasting more valuable time and effort trying to get a refund, while the country reels from a rising death toll, which has now topped 20,000 and is on course to be the highest in Europe.

But Professor Sharon Peacock of SAGE proclaimed in the last week of March that finger-prick tests would be “a game changer and that people would be able to pop into a pharmacy for a quick and easy check.

Professor Peacock has a webpage telling all and sundry about her academic credentials and about her role at the “esteemed” University of Cambridge. She has 25 years of experience, has trained 22 PhD students and authored over 400 scientific articles or book chapters.

With all this supposed knowledge and experience, why didn't she pipe up at one of the many SAGE meetings and voice concerns about these tests not working before we bought 17.5 million of them?

How can an expert in that field be aware enough to speak out in public but not be aware enough to ascertain how accurate the tests are?

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That's the second charge: incompetence.

Alongside Professor Peacock at SAGE are several other academics with grandiose titles, representing Oxford University, Imperial College, King's College and the University of Edinburgh.

The group also features individuals such as Professor Charlotte Watts, chief scientific adviser at the Department of International Development, and Emma Reed, the director of emergency response and health protection at the Department of Health.

With this menagerie of grandiose titles, professorships and links to venerated institutions, why has the UK's response been so amateur?

Abu Dhabi, which has nothing like the renowned establishments or academic pedigree of the UK, bought its police officers helmets which can scan the temperatures of 200 people per minute from five metres away. It identifies possible Covid-19 victims, who are then hospitalised.

Their force is also out delivering gloves and masks to people who need them, and they have set up testing centres in the most populated areas so that people can line up and get checked instantly.

Over here, under the guidance of SAGE, Britain's initiatives are embarrassing. A website opened at 6am one day last week to allow key workers to order a home test. By 6:02am, it had run out and had to be shut down.

The option to book a test involves having to drive to a car park somewhere, while someone from the army leans through your window to take a swab from your mouth. What if you suspect you have the virus but don't own a car?

That's if you can even get an appointment, as they were all gone in a matter of minutes – except in Scotland.

The tests were only supposed to be for key workers, but the website has no way to properly check this, so anyone can sign up – and clearly they have, meaning lots of key workers are left whistling in the wind.

There is also a shortage of masks; the UK public were told not to buy any, so that medics could get them instead.

Why didn't any of SAGE’s luminaries speak out or see this coming? Why didn't they do what other places like Abu Dhabi have?

They built a 127-bed temporary hospital complete with air conditioning, ventilators and a full staff to operate it.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Nightingale temporary hospital in East London, with space for 3,600, had only 26 patients last week, because there are no staff to work there.

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That's the third charge: overseeing chaos.

Britain's academics and universities are standing on the shoulders of giants who built the country into what it is.

Those giants are ordinary, working class folk, the ones who right now are dying in vast numbers.
Every member of SAGE should hang their heads in shame.

If they could see that clear errors were being made, they should have spoken out and sent up a flare immediately.

If they didn't see the errors, then they shouldn't be involved in decision making ever again.
Either way, when the British people needed their academics and scientists – who have benefited from all their historic tax contributions – to deliver, they didn't.

Lions led by donkeys and dunderheads.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.