Boris Johnson’s defence of Dominic Cummings has “trashed all the advice” scientists have given Downing Street on making sure the public follow coronavirus lockdown measures, a government adviser has said.
Stephen Reicher, a member of the Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) said advice on honesty, respect and equity had all been “trashed” and accused the government of “not wanting to listen to science”.
SPI-B is one of several groups that advises the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage). Made up of behavioural scientists and academic specialists in health psychology, social psychology, anthropology and history, it advises on how to get people to stick to the measures recommended by medical and epidemiological experts to control the spread of infection.
Writing on Twitter, Reicher said: “I can say that in a few short minutes tonight, Boris Johnson has trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control COVID-19.”
As one of those involved in SPI-B, the Government advisory group on behavioural science, I can say that in a few short minutes tonight, Boris Johnson has trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control COVID-19.— Stephen Reicher (@ReicherStephen) May 24, 2020
Reicher’s comments came after Johnson defended his top aide’s apparent flouting of lockdown rules by driving to Durham from London with his wife and child, sparking widespread fury.
Continuing his comments via Twitter, the adviser added: “Be open and honest, we said. Trashed. Respect the public, we said. Trashed. Ensure equity, so everyone is treated the same, we said. Trashed. Be consistent we said. Trashed. Make clear 'we are all in it together'. Trashed.
“It is very hard to provide scientific advice to a government which doesn't want to listen to science.”
His comments came despite the government repeatedly declaring it is being “led by the science” on the decisions it has made around the coronavirus pandemic, including lockdown measures, as well as things like school closures and the wearing of face masks.
Reicher added that he hoped the public would read the group’s publicly available papers and “continue to make up for this bad government with their own good sense”.
He wasn’t alone in his criticism, with fellow members of SPI-B Susan Michie and Robert West saying they agreed with his comments.
As another member of SPI-B, I completely agree. https://t.co/Ywf5uGS7a9— Susan Michie (@SusanMichie) May 24, 2020
I am sorry to have to say that as another member of SPI-B I have to agree. https://t.co/ceKU0HioFC— Robert West (@robertjwest) May 24, 2020
Professor Helen Ward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial School of Public Health, also voiced her concern at the effect the prime minister’s support of Cummings would have on those advising the government.
She wrote on Twitter: “I do not see how the professional advisers to the government can tolerate this.
“They must surely consider their own positions, or they are effectively condoning the disregarding of the rules that they have been advocating.”
I do not see how the professional advisers to the government can tolerate this. They must surely consider their own positions, or they are effectively condoning the disregarding of the rules that they have been advocating.— Helen Ward (@profhelenward) May 24, 2020
Speaking at the government’s official daily briefing on Sunday evening, Johnson said his top adviser had acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity” despite breaching lockdown restrictions to travel to his parents’ home.
The PM said he thought Cummings had “followed the instincts of every father and every parent” in making the 260-mile trip from London to Durham with his wife and child and said he did not “mark him down” for that.
His defence of Cummings has sparked a backlash from the public and from fellow politicians, including in his own party.
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