Throughout the pandemic Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty seem to have relied predominantly on the results of one theoretical model to predict its course. They appear in front of the Science and Technology Select Committee this afternoon and this article gives a taste of what they might be in for. – Owl
By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor www.telegraph.co.uk
Chief scientific adviser and chief medical officer to face committee amid concern graphs shown were out of date and alarmist
Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty have been summoned before MPs to explain the evidence for a national lockdown, after their 4,000 deaths figure was questioned by scientists.
The pair will face the Science and Technology Select Committee on Tuesday afternoon, amid mounting concern that the graphs shown at a press conference on Saturday evening were out-of-date and alarmist.
Modelling presented by Sir Patrick, the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, showed that under a worst case scenario 4,000 deaths-a-day could occur by December 20 – four times more than the worst day of the first peak.
However, the forecast was compiled on October 9, five days before new tier restrictions came into effect, and researchers at Oxford University pointed out that if the modelling had been correct, deaths would now be around 1,000-a-day.
Instead, the current rolling seven day average is around 265 and Monday’s death figure was just 136.
It has since emerged that the modelling was based on an ‘R’ rate of 1.3 to 1.5 and shown despite the Government publishing a rate of between 1.1 and 1.3 the day before the press conference.
Yesterday the government office for science refused to release the key to the graph explaining which groups had modelled the varying scenarios, or what parameters had been used, saying ‘relevant papers would be published shortly.
Science Committee chairman Greg Clark said: “This is an important moment in the handling of the pandemic. Parliament must have the chance to understand and question the evidence and rationale behind the new restrictions in advance of Wednesday’s debate and vote.
“I am grateful to Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty for having agreed immediately to my request to appear before the science and technology committee on Tuesday.”
Last week, Sir Patrick said the three-tier restrictions were starting to have an impact and the ‘R’ rate was now clearly in decline. A graph shown at the press conference also illustrated a clear downward trend.
Professor Tim Spector, of King’s College London, said a national lockdown was being implemented just as the second wave was “running out of steam in the worst affected areas”.
Prof Spector said new data from the King’s app, which has been monitoring the spread since the first wave, showed that cases stopped growing in northern England four days ago.
Professor Carl Henegnhan of Oxford University also published a graph demonstrating that Liverpool cases have nearly halved since the peak on October 7.
“Am I missing something?” he said, referring to the decision to lockdown the country.
Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) group which produced the 4,000 death graph, admitted that the graph showed a situation where the tiers had little impact.
“The “up to 4000 deaths a day” scenarios represent preliminary work to generate a new reasonable worst case planning scenario to assist NHS and other government planning,” he said.
“The reasonable worst case is intended to be pessimistic, so these scenarios assumed an R value of 1.3-1.5 and that the tier system would have minimal impact.”
However Prof Ferguson said that even allowing for the effects of the current tier system, a second wave is still likely to exceed the first wave in hospital demands and deaths.