10 Days That Changed Britain: “Heated” Debate Between Scientists Forced Boris Johnson To Act On Coronavirus

10 Days That Changed Britain: “Heated” Debate Between Scientists Forced Boris Johnson To Act On Coronavirus. By Alex Wickham. This is the first article I’ve seen that attempts to describe the fateful decision in a Western Government about how to react to coronavirus. Why the delays? Note the dates.

It was on Wednesday March 11 — 10 days ago — that some of the experts on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies began to realise that the coronavirus was spreading through the UK too fast for the NHS to cope.

Even Mar 11 was way too late. How come no one near power realized before then? Did they not notice what was happened in China and how the Chinese reacted? Did they not wonder what was so bad that the Chinese reacted that way?

It was on Wednesday March 11 — 10 days ago — that some of the experts on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies [SAGE] began to realise that the coronavirus was spreading through the UK too fast for the NHS to cope.

But others continued to believe that introducing social distancing now would be unsustainable for a long period and would lead to a more disastrous second wave of infection.

The days-long debate between the experts themselves and with the government was “heated” and “extremely difficult”, multiple sources familiar with the discussions told BuzzFeed News. [UK’s chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance] admitted as much at a health select committee hearing this week: “If you think SAGE is a cosy consensus of agreeing, you’re very wrong indeed”. …

While the scientific debate was raging last week between experts, officials and ministers in face-to-face meetings and over emails and text messages, Johnson’s government was publicly insisting that the scientific advice showed the UK did not yet have to bring in more stringent measures to fight the virus.

Political aides tacitly criticised other countries who had taken more dramatic steps, claiming Britain was being “guided by the science” rather than politics.

The thought of months or even a year of social distancing was simply not feasible, some in Johnson’s team still thought at that point.

The prime minister finally advised social distancing on Monday [16 Mar]. …

Which experts?

One minister said that it was then the political responsibility of Johnson and Number 10 to decide which scientists to back, but described a “vacuum of leadership” among aides.

The minister told BuzzFeed News that Cummings and Vallance were “close allies” and claimed the government had “bet” the future of the UK on advice from a very small group of scientists that for a long time differed from the wider international consensus, and other members of SAGE. …

Police state worries:

Johnson’s own personal views on the role of the state have also been a major factor, according to those familiar with his thinking. The prime minister has held deep ideological reservations about turning Britain into an effective police state, as some other countries have done.