Scientists and politicians are to blame for coronavirus failings because the multiplicity of scientific advisors “didn't pick up the signals from China” in the early days of the pandemic, a health expert said.
Richard Horton, who edits medical journal The Lancet, says “the whole story was laid out for them” but when the country could have been preparing in March, they “wasted 6 to 8 weeks” in what he calls an “astonishing political failure”.
Asked on Sky News’s Kay Burley show, Horton was asked did politicians act in the right way to which he replied: “No they did not, the whole story of the past eight months has been laid out in a series of papers that we published at the end of January and the story of the severity of the disease.
“The fact that there's no vaccine, the need for PPE, the need for wide-scale testing, all of the issues that we've been debating were laid out then and it wasn't until March that the government took this seriously.”
“We wasted 6 to 8 weeks when we could have been preparing for what hit us in March through to the present and that was an astonishing political failure,” he said.
“I'm afraid to say thats some of the responsibility is shared not just the politicians but also the scientists and I think that as we look back at the events over the last eight months we need to ask ourselves why was it that the multiplicity of government committees, and medical officers and scientific advisors that we have across all four countries of the UK didn't pick up the signals from China in the early days when the whole story was laid out for them then.
"That was an astonishing political failure"— SkyNews (@SkyNews) September 7, 2020
Lancet editor-in-chief, Richard Horton says politicians "wasted 6 to 8 weeks" at the beginning of the pandemic when they "could have been preparing for what hit us in March through to the present."#KayBurley https://t.co/K0TB6o4Uwn pic.twitter.com/64ZaRmijt6
“There was not just a political failure, there was also a failure of the policy advice being given to them.”
Richard Horton has been a prominent critic of the government’s response to the coronavirus from the beginning of the pandemic.
He told MPs at the science select committee that the government and its scientific advisers did not act on early warnings of how serious the coronavirus outbreak was in China.
The Lancet published three papers from Chinese researchers at the beginning of this year that said the NHS would be overwhelmed once the virus reached the UK.
Horton said the authors of the papers were “advocating the use of personal protective equipment” for healthcare workers, as well as supporting increased testing and isolation for positive cases.
He said that failure to prepare this would result in lives lost.
He also urged the government not to end lockdown too early, saying in May that it should continue until June.
Horton is among many other scientists who have voiced their frustration over the UK government’s claim that it is “being led by the science”.
Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, told the Guardian: “As a scientist, I hope I never again hear the phrase ‘based on the best science and evidence’ spoken by a politician,” “This phrase has become basically meaningless and used to explain anything and everything.”’
In June, Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser to prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, set up his own “shadow” group of experts as an alternative to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
He said his new panel, which will stream its meetings on YouTube, was necessary because he feared experts were deferring to ministers.
Sir David has also previously criticised the government for delaying its lockdown.
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