PM’s spokesman dodges awkward Covid questions following damning revelations

“We took a balanced approach which protects lives and livelihoods" Now both look like they're in jeopardy.

The Prime Minster’s spokesman has refused to say whether the government is still listening to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), following revelations that ministers ignored advice on tackling a second wave in September.

The PM’s official spokesman told journalists that the government is following “a range of scientific advice” when pressed on whether the PM is now ignoring the official advisory group.

SAGE minutes show that ministers were advised on September 21st to consider a ‘circuit-breaker’ two week lockdown, banning indoor household mixing, closing bars, restaurants, cafés and gyms, putting university and college teaching online, and working from home. Despite a surge in cases, only the last policy – recommending working from home – was adopted by the PM.

When SAGE advised stricter measures against coronavirus on September 21st, UK Covid cases were around 4,000 a day. The advice was ignored, and daily cases have more than tripled to over 13,000 a day now.

On Monday the government revealed a new ‘tiered’ system of Covid alert levels and restrictions in England, following anger over the patch-work approach. No 10 would not set out the process for determining which areas were in each tier, when asked today.

“We took a balanced approach which protects lives and livelihoods” the PM’s spokesman said today following the revelations. The evidence suggests the government’s economic concerns over-rode the health risks of a second spike.

The R rate is now above 1 in England, meaning Covid transmission is at risk of rising exponentially. Asked several times today, the PM’s spokesman repeatedly refused to say whether the government’s aim is to get R below 1 this winter. Instead, he compared the 1+ figure to the 3 which it might be with zero government action.

SAGE also tore into the state of the government’s Test and Trace system: “Low levels of engagement with the system coupled with testing delays and likely poor rates of adherence with self-isolation suggests that this system is having a marginal impact on transmission at the moment.”

The only political adviser attending the crucial September 21st SAGE meeting as an “observer” was Downing Street tech guru Ben Warner, the ‘right-hand man’ to Dominic Cummings, Politico reports: “Whatever he reported back, it seems his colleagues in No. 10 didn’t much like the sound of it.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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