Lockdown exit: rival science advisers urge government to follow ‘local’ strategy

Boris Johnson must abandon “centralised” control of the pandemic amid warnings that localised outbreaks will result in multiple new peaks of the deadly coronavirus.

Didn’t these councillors get to this conclusion first? County Councillors Hilary Ackland (Exeter), Martin Shaw (Seaton and Colyton) and Claire Wright (Otter Valley) called for a regional approach to Covid-19 on the 16 April.

Caroline Wheeler, Deputy Political Editor  www.thetimes.co.uk 

The recommendation will be made by a panel of experts that has been assembled by Sir David King, the government’s former chief scientific adviser.

The committee, which is designed to act as an independent alternative to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), will urge the government to refocus the UK’s entire approach to pandemic control onto local action plans.

The finding will be included in a report to be published by the committee on Tuesday after it heard evidence last week from scientists behind a mathematical model that shows Britain is at risk of multiple further waves of the virus, hitting specific towns, cities and regions of the UK.

“The government’s top-down approach has failed,” said a source close to the committee.

“The alternative modelling seen by the committee shows that the country is set to face a series of localised pandemics and multiple peaks of the virus that can effectively be tackled only by local health bodies rather than No 10.”

The committee’s report will warn that unless the government moves additional funding to local public health bodies and councils — which deliver much of social care for the elderly — it will continue to fail to control the epidemic and will pave the way for tens of thousands more deaths.

The panel will formally submit its recommendations to the health and social care select committee, thus heaping pressure on Johnson, who will unveil the government’s own lockdown exit strategy in a televised address today at 7pm.

Tomorrow King will chair a second meeting of the independent group to decide whether to expand the committee and consider work on an “alternative road map” for the UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

King, who was chief scientific adviser to two prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from 2000 to 2007, has previously accused ministers of responding too slowly to the coronavirus outbreak and wrongly allowing the Cheltenham festival and other big events to go ahead in mid-March.

He served under David Cameron and Theresa May as the UK’s climate envoy from 2013 to 2017.

The committee was convened following concerns about the independence of Sage after it was revealed that Dominic Cummings — a top aide to the prime minister — had attended the group’s meetings.

It also emerged that 16 of the 23 known members of the committee, which holds its meetings in secret, are employed by the government.