UK coronavirus live: Robert Jenrick defends decision to ignore Sage’s lockdown advice | Politics
Good morning. Ministers used to claim that they were “following the science” in their response to the coronavirus pandemic. That claim is now in tatters following the publication last night of documents from Sage, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, showing that three weeks ago they called for a fortnight-long full lockdown (a “circuit breaker”) to halt the spread of the virus. Boris Johnson rejected that advice. My colleague Ian Sample has the story here.
Of course, ministers are entitled to reject scientific advice and quite often posterity concludes that that was the right thing to do. The prime minister has to apply a wider definition of the public good (ie, including the economy) than Sage, which is primarily focused on health. There is a strong argument that Johnson erred in March by relying too much on Sage the advice. But that is based on the theory that he should have implemented lockdown measures sooner, when Sage was arguing that it would be a mistake to rush (because of possible compliance fatigue) and dallying with the herd immunity theory (since disowned). Now Johnson is open to the charge of over-ruling the scientists when they were advocating more caution. It is a dangerous position for him if it all goes wrong and the Sage warnings are vindicated.
This morning we have had the first response from a minister. Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, was doing the morning interview round and, when it was put to him that the government was ignoring Sage, he justified it on the grounds that the PM was taking a “balanced” approach. He said:
We have to take a balanced judgment – these are not easy decisions.
But the prime minister has to balance protecting people’s lives and the NHS from the virus while also prioritising things that matter to us as a society, like education and keeping as many people in employment as possible, and also ensuring that other health risks, like mental health and illnesses, don’t get neglected as a result
That’s the difficult but balanced judgment we are taking.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: The ONS publishes its weekly death figures for England and Wales.
9.30am: Helen Whately, the care minister, and a range of other care specialists give evidence to the joint health committee and science committee ‘coronavirus – lessons learnt’ inquiry.
9.30am: The Leeds city council leader, Judith Blake, holds a press conference.
12pm: Downing Street holds its daily lobby briefing.
12.15pm: The Scottish government holds is coronavirus briefing.
12.30pm: A Treasury minister responds to an urgent question on economic support for areas affected by local Covid restrictions.
1.30pm: Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, takes questions in the Senedd.
After 1.30pm: MPs begin a debate on the latest coronavirus regulations. There will be votes at 6pm.
Politics Live has been doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog for some time and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too.
Here is our global coronavirus live blog.
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