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Previews of a 151-page report from two parliamentary select committees appeared on October 12, 2021.

Jeremy Hunt, chairs the Health and Social Care Committee, and Greg Clark is chairman of the Science and Technology Committee. The report represents the unanimous conclusions of the 22 Conservative, Labour and SNP MPs serving on them.

Whilst one can appreciate the hours of work it took to create a report out of many hours of testimony since 2020, it might as well have been compiled from newspaper reports.

I have not yet found the full report online, but media reports have been appearing throughout the morning.

In summary, although the vaccine rollout was a great success, the Government made a lot of mistakes: not locking down sooner (!?!), neglecting the elderly, being late in creating a test and trace system and relying too much on SAGE:

Guido Fawkes looked at the criticism of SAGE (emphases in the original):

… What caught Guido’s eye in the report, however, was how critical it is of the scientific advice that dictated the government’s response at the start of the pandemic:

“In the first three months the strategy reflected official scientific advice to the Government which was accepted and implemented. When the Government moved from the ‘contain’ stage to the ‘delay’ stage, that approach involved trying to manage the spread of covid through the population rather than to stop it spreading altogether […] The fact that the UK approach reflected a consensus between official scientific advisers and the Government indicates a degree of groupthink that was present at the time which meant we were not as open to approaches being taken elsewhere as we should have been.”

In other words, the government was wrong to consistently accept the scientific advice, and should have challenged SAGE’s input more often. Quite the departure from the Twitterati’s squawks that the government should always and only “follow the science”…

The report later adds:

“We accept that it is difficult to challenge a widely held scientific consensus. But accountability in a democracy depends on elected decision-makers taking advice, but examining, questioning and challenging it before making their own decisions.”

The government made lots of mistakes last year, yet it’s clear they were also being guided by ill-informed voices. Of course, that’s bound to happen in the chaos of a pandemic; it was a novel virus and no one really had all the right answers. Hindsight makes this look a lot easier. Still, this hardly vindicates Whitty, Vallance, and SAGE – and going forward, as the report says, there should be an effort to “include more representation and a wider range of disciplines” when making these decisions…

The Times picked up on ‘group-think‘:

“Group-think” among ministers, scientific advisers and civil servants meant that a lockdown was not brought in quickly enough early last year, ranking as “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”.

However, the Daily Mail reports that Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance hit back, especially about ‘following the science’ (emphases mine):

Ministers shouldn’t have said they were being ‘led by the science’ throughout the Covid pandemic, Sir Patrick Vallance has said.  

No10’s chief scientific adviser claimed science doesn’t decide nor does it ‘lead the way’, insisting that there were other complex matters that needed to be factored in for crucial decisions.

He said No10 should have stuck to the phrase ‘informed by science’, rather than implying they were ‘slavishly following’ evidence ‘because science doesn’t have all the answers to these things’.

In his first in-depth interview since the virus hit the UK, he also said he doesn’t ‘sugar coat’ information for the Government.

Sir Patrick, who became a household name during the course of the pandemic due to his frequent appearances at daily televised press briefings in Downing St, said he views his job as ‘giving scientific advice, like it or not, to the Prime Minister and Cabinet to enable them to make decisions’.

And he revealed that his mantra has always been to act early when adopting lockdown restrictions to thwart the spread of coronavirus.

Did Vallance ever advise the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers against saying ‘follow the science’ or similar? It would appear not, as they said it dozens of times in press conferences and in Parliament.

Dominic Cummings took advantage of the report to lambaste Boris again. The Mail reported:

Speaking to Sky News outside his home, the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser said: ‘Me and others put into place work to try to improve the system in 2020 after the first wave.

‘Unfortunately, the Prime Minister being the joke that he is has not pushed that work through.

Mr Cummings, who has been a vocal critic of Mr and Mrs Johnson since he left Downing Street, added: ‘Now we have a joke Prime Minister and a joke leader of the Labour party, and we obviously need a new political system.’

The report recommends better planning for the future. Ho-hum. The Government had a chance to do that following a 2016 report and the three-day-long Exercise Cygnus on how better to manage influenza. Jeremy Hunt, one of the authors of today’s report, was Health Secretary at the time. He didn’t do anything about the recommendations then. Therefore, it’s a bit rich for him to criticise now, yet, he heads the Health and Social Care Committee and that’s part of his job. 

A formal inquiry on the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is expected to begin in 2022.

Over the past several months, interview sessions that the House of Commons select committees have conducted generally concern an aspect of coronavirus.

Their interviews and subsequent reports will feed into a wider inquiry on the pandemic to be held in 2022.

On Wednesday, May 26, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former special adviser Dominic Cummings appeared before the Science and Technology Select Committee for an inquiry that lasted over seven hours.

Cummings’s testimony included allegations that Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, should be fired and that he was a liar.

He agreed to provide evidence by June 4 to the select committee to substantiate those serious allegations, but he never did. Pictured on the right is Jeremy Hunt MP, co-chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee:

TimesRadio interviewed Jeremy Hunt on June 6:

Guido Fawkes has the key quote. Hunt said of the upcoming session with Matt Hancock:

Dominic Cummings made some very serious allegations against [Matt Hancock] in particular, saying that he lied repeatedly. So we will put those allegations to him [Hancock], but you know we haven’t received the written evidence to back those claims up that we were expecting. But we’ll be putting [..] all those allegations to him to give him his rightful chance to respond.

Guido commented (emphasis in the original):

Guido spent about 7 hours watching Cummings insist that the government is an incompetent cabal led by donkeys, and now the same man appears to have forgotten to hand in his homework. Maybe the Select Committee should check if Cummings has decided to upload the evidence to Twitter instead…

I checked Cummings’s Twitter feed today but couldn’t find anything.

Today, June 10, 2021, Matt Hancock appeared before the Health and Social Care Select Committee, co-chaired by Hunt and Greg Clark MP. Other MPs on the committee also asked questions. The co-chairs and the MPs are the same as those on the Science and Technology Select Committee.

The session lasted four and a half hours and is available for replay. Skip over the first four minutes which are in private, then fast forward 15 minutes when they take a break at around 90 minutes in:

Channel 4 also broadcast it:

Guido Fawkes has video clips of and principal points from Hancock’s testimony.

The session also trended on Twitter.

I haven’t listened to all of it yet, so cannot comment. What follows are tweets and excerpts from Guido’s post:

09.35: Greg Clark points out Cummings has missed all deadlines to submit evidence to substantiate his claims made against Hancock during his committee appearance. Cummings has not explained the absence of his submission.

Greg Clark asked Hancock about Cummings’s animosity towards him:

09.36: Hancock denies ever saying something to the PM that he knew to be untrue

09.37: Hancock denies blaming Treasury for blocking purchasing of PPE. Says it is “Not a fair recollection” of the truth.

09.49: Clark: “Did you know that [Cummings] wanted the PM to fire you?”; Hancock: “Yes because he briefed the newspapers at the time”

Questions turned to testing:

10.10: Hancock defends the 100,000 target says it was needed to galvanise the Whitehall machine.

10.12: Hancock claims countries that experienced SARS & MERS were better prepared, though Covid-19 was very different on account of asymptomatic transmission.

Hancock talked about the (duff) modelling numbers:

Hancock’s department had no list of care homes:

I find this next line surprising:

10.29: Hancock stresses that only 1.6% of cases from care homes came from hospitals.

This, too, was surprising:

Contrary to what Cummings said, Hancock said there was a plan early on:

He discussed China:

10:49: Insists that closing the borders last year would have made little difference: “The only way the world could have stopped this virus getting out of China is if China itself had stopped people leaving China.”

11:28: Hancock claims he first heard about asymptomatic spread in January 2020: “I arranged a call with the World Health Organisation. I was told on that call with respect to China this was ‘likely a mistranslation’ […] I bitterly regret that I didn’t overrule that scientific advice.”

Hancock talked about lockdowns.

We should not have been so compliant, because they’ll lock us down again:

With regard to our present situation:

13:31: The Delta/Indian variant now makes up 90% of cases in the UK.

He agreed with Greg Clark on these preliminary conclusions:

One would think that Dominic Cummings watched Matt Hancock’s testimony.

Hancock has agreed to supply the select committee with copies of documentation and data from the early days of the pandemic.

Cummings is now in a position to critique what Hancock said. Many of us await further developments with interest.

On the evening of October 31, 2020, the English received a Halloween trick rather than a treat.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a press conference to announce that England would be going into a second nationwide lockdown on Thursday, November 5.

How ironic that the Government chose November 5, Guy Fawkes Night, when, in 1605, Fawkes and group of his mates tried to blow up Parliament. This is England’s night for fireworks and bonfires remembering that Fawkes and his pals were imprisoned and that traitors will never succeed. But I digress.

The Chief Medical Officer, Prof Chris Whitty, and Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, accompanied Boris. They showed yet another alarming set of statistics, an incomplete set of hospitals (showing 29 out of a total of 482) and updated heat maps showing that even regions of England with low rates of ‘infection’ were in potential danger if ‘no action’ were taken:

At the time of the press conference, half of the country, including London, had been in either one of the two new designations, Tier 2 or Tier 3. People in those tiers were told that it would take a few weeks to see any tangible decrease in the R (‘infection’) rate. Action was being taken.

Yet, Boris — urged by SAGE, of which Whitty and Vallance are members — did not bother to wait to see if the numbers in Tiers 2 and 3 were decreasing. He went straight for another national lockdown.

Once again, Boris circumvented presenting the plan to Parliament first for scrutiny. He claimed it was so urgent that he had no time for that.

What made matters worse is that an unknown someone leaked the lockdown plan to the media. MPs were in recess at the time. They returned to the Commons on Monday, November 2.

Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle was not happy.

No. 10 launched a enquiry with regard to the leak. The police might get involved, if necessary.

The Daily Mail has a full timeline of events from Friday, October 30. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Furious Speaker Lindsay Hoyle today demanded a personal apology if a Cabinet minister is found to have leaked the PM’s lockdown plan.

The Commons chief read the riot act to the government after the bombshell news spilled over the weekend, rather than being announced to Parliament first

‘I expect the Prime Minister to keep the House updated on his leak inquiry,’ he said.

‘I also hope that if the leaker is identified and if a member of this House, that member will make a full apology to the House for the discourteous and unacceptable behaviour.’

Separately, science chief Patrick Vallance is facing a backlash over a grim off-the-record briefing to reporters on Friday afternoon, in which he underlined SAGE’s push for an immediate lockdown – alongside figures suggesting more than 85,000 people could die this winter.

Sir Patrick’s office insist his briefing on Friday afternoon was just a regular off the record discussion with journalists, and dismiss the idea he was pre-empting any government move

Sir Patrick suggested to reporters that it was too late for a two-week circuit breaker, and a four-week lockdown similar to that introduced in France was the best way to control the R number.  

Mr Johnson had still been wavering on the issue that morning, when Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was sent out to defend the local ‘Tiers’ system on the airwaves.

But, confronted with Sir Patrick and Chris Whitty’s dire predictions he set the wheels in motion on a month-long lockdown

Within hours the tentative decision taken by the elite group was leaked to the Daily Mail and Times – before the full Cabinet had been informed – in an apparent effort to prevent the PM changing his mind. 

By Saturday morning the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg was giving details of two key documents that were shown to the ‘quad’ [core group of decision makers], a controversial prediction that the daily death toll would hit 4,000 a day and that NHS hospitals would be overwhelmed

There has since been criticism that the 4,000 a day projection was already out of date. It was produced by experts from the University of Cambridge and Public Health England who have since revised their numbers and lowered the possible numbers of deaths

Nevertheless, both slides formed a key part of the data finally officially presented on Saturday night, when a livid Mr Johnson brought forward his announcement after a call with his clueless wider Cabinet.

A formal leak inquiry has now been launched to find the culprit – with claims that just 15 people, including Sir Patrick, chief medical officer Chris Whitty and NHS England head Sir Simon Stevens were in the meeting.

There have even been dark threats that the police could be called in to find who undermined the PM’s approach …

A former Cabinet minister told MailOnline that the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring over the lockdown was ‘very odd’.

They suggested that the intervention from Sir Patrick could have been part of an effort to ‘bounce’ the PM. ‘It does sound like a bounce. If he was briefing people in advance he was obviously trying to build up a head of steam behind the notion of a lockdown,’ they said …

The MP said the figures being used to support the lockdown move, including claims that deaths could hit 4,000 a day, were questionable

‘The figures don’t appear to have been updated to reflect the true state of affairs,’ they said …

Mr Johnson will today try to head off a mounting Tory revolt against his nationwide lockdown by warning coronavirus deaths this winter could otherwise by double the first wave. MPs have been raging at the ‘evil’ new rules, likening them to something from a ‘totalitarian regime’.

On Tuesday, November 3, Whitty and Vallance appeared before the Science and Technology Select Committee, headed by the estimable MP, Greg Clark.

The Telegraph details the reasons why they were asked to appear at such short notice: spurious statistics given at Saturday’s press conference used to justify a second lockdown.

The two physicians faced questions not only from Clark but also the other MPs who sit on that committee:

That link is still working, so, while there is no transcript, you can watch the proceedings, which last a little over two hours.

It was an engrossing session and, based on the replies to that tweet, no doubt many lockdown sceptics tuned in to watch:

What follows are highlights of the Select Committee hearing. MPs asked good questions:

An MP was able to get Whitty and Vallance to admit that they had not taken the effect of the tier system into account before the press conference last Saturday:

Greg Clark did an excellent job of chairing the hearing:

The duo explained that the reason they pushed for a lockdown was because R >1 across England, even in regions which are in the Medium (no tier) range. I disagree that this means ‘cases are doubling’; they are not:

Graham Stringer (Lab) is one of my favourite MPs. He said that Saturday’s alarmist graphs scared the public. Vallance’s response follows:

Jeremy Hunt (Con) also asked about the projected 4,000 deaths:

The duo were also asked about the subtle blame they were putting on university students as being part of the cause of the increase in R. They quickly walked back the insinuation:

The duo were asked whether it might be a good idea to have an economist on SAGE to present the economic damage of lockdowns. Whitty seemed more open to this than Vallance, who was vehemently opposed. He said that SAGE were not responsible for economic modelling and said that was the remit of the Treasury:

The replies to the next tweet mention soundbites on other questions:

Around halfway through, it was apparent that the duo were uncomfortable with the probing nature of MPs’ questions. Vallance glared at one point.

Chris Whitty is shown below:

When asked about the test and trace system in place, they said that it works best at the beginning of a pandemic when cases are just beginning to climb rather than later on. The Government has put a huge emphasis on our test and trace system. As such, it is viewed as being essential by MPs and the public:

They were asked about excess deaths taking place because of all the emphasis being put on COVID-19:

There is doubt that much of the NHS was overrun, even at the height of the pandemic:

Later on, talk turned to the ban on public worship and outdoor sports for children which come into effect today. The two admitted that their ‘evidence’ about closing houses of worship was ‘anecdotal’. When pressed, Whitty said that he would not answer theological questions. When Greg Clark pursued the subject of outdoor sports for children, Whitty refused to say it was a low-risk activity that would help keep youngsters in better health.

Not everyone was happy with the line of questioning, although it was much better than I’d expected.

Barrister Francis Hoar had submitted questions to the select committee which were not asked. I, too, would like answers to these but think the discussion would have taken up much of the two hours:

The following day, Chris Whitty sent a letter to Greg Clark retracting a statement he had made earlier about infection rates in the over-60s in Liverpool:

The following statement is correct:

Based on the admittedly bogus data, it seems incongruous that we should have a second England-wide lockdown:

Nonetheless, after a debate in Parliament on Wednesday, October 4, MPs voted overwhelmingly — 516-38 — for a second lockdown:

I am pleased to say that, during the debate, several MPs from both sides of the aisle pressed the Government for a change of tack on banning public worship and certain outdoor sports, including for children. Unfortunately, the Government refused to budge.

Guido Fawkes has a list of the MPs who voted No. Four of those were from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP); sadly, I did not see Jim Shannon’s name among their number.

Clearly, there weren’t enough rebels, but I am most grateful for those who stood up for their principles — and for us.

On November 5, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivered a statement to Parliament announcing an extension to his original furlough scheme:

Lockdown ends on December 2, at which point the Government with local officials, including the NHS, will decide what regions need to return to the Tier system.

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