Since the advent of the Covid19 pandemic the Government has always based its policy on the scientific advice that it has sought. Last week I listened to an interview on the wireless with Lord Howard a former Home Secretary and a former leader of the Conservative Party (whom I served as parliamentary private secretary during that period of leadership) and for whom I have enormous respect. He insisted that the Government was relying on the ‘best’ scientific advice.
How does he know, and can we be sure?
Certainly, there is no shortage of scientific advice, often contradictory advice. How are we to judge whether we have been led by the ‘best’ advice or by deeply flawed advice?
I am nervous about the extent to which the Government appears to have relied on advice from Professor Neil Fergusson’s modelling of the pandemic. Although he has now resigned from the Government’s scientific advisory group following the exposure of his lover’s breaking of the lockdown rules, it was apparent nevertheless that he had very significant influence at a key moment.
His computer modelling predicted that some half a million deaths would result from the our earlier voluntary approach to social distancing and reliance on building up a herd immunity in the population. That devastating prediction prompted a rethink from which the current policy of lockdown was the result.
There are plenty of scientific voices that reject Ferguson’s methodology and his assumptions. At the time of his prediction his computer model had not been released for peer review. The code has now been made available to the scientific community and is subject to some pretty critical commentary.
I am not qualified to comment on the validity of the criticism of the computer code that he has released.
What we non-scientists can appreciate however, is that Professor Fergusson ‘has form’: He predicted that 136,000 of us would die of mad cow disease; that 200 million worldwide would die from avian flu. The reality however, was deaths of a few hundred in each case.
In the current pandemic his model has been used to predict the deaths that would have resulted from the Sweden’s comparatively relaxed social distancing policy up until the beginning of this month. The result was predicted deaths 15 times greater than the actual number of deaths.
The pandemic’s damage to our livelihoods could not have been avoided, not least because we are a trading nation and the effect on international markets has been severe, nevertheless the policy of lockdown has imposed severe additional damage to our economy and costs that we will have to bear for many years. It was done for the best possible motive -to save lives.
Recession and unemployment also take a heavy toll of life too