UK Covid live: minister questioned over whether science advisers back move to plan B now

Good morning. At his news conference yesterday Sajid Javid, the health secretary, stressed the role individuals must play in controlling coronavirus, urging people to get booster vaccinations and to act responsibly. But there are many who are saying the government should be doing more now too, and the British Medical Association has become the latest body to call for plan B to be implemented immediately. My colleague Nadeem Badshah has the story.

But are the government’s main scientific advisers also in favour of a move to plan B now? They, of course, must speak for themselves, but it is not hard to guess where their instincts lie. In July, when the government announced the full opening up in England, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said opening up should proceed more slowly. In September, when the government published its plan for winter (including a minimalist plan B, which is similar to plan A in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), Sage called for plan B-style measures to be implemented immediately. And at that point Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, stressed that it was always important to “go early” when introducing measures to control rising cases.

On the Today programme this morning Edward Argar, a health minister, was asked if the government was now ignoring advice from Vallance and others. Argar at first denied that, arguing that the government listened to a range of advice, Argar said. But when asked directly by Nick Robinson if Vallance was telling ministers it was right not to implement plan B now, Argar would not say that. He went on:

What we have to make a judgment call on is when is the right time to do plan B, and whether it’s the right time to do Plan B, and I can entirely understand what you, on behalf of your listeners, would want to say, ‘What is the binary moment … [that] triggers doing that?’ Sadly it’s not that simple because there’s a range of considerations and factors that need to be taken into account, one of which of course is that pressure on the NHS.

In an earlier interview, on Sky News, Argar was also asked if the government was following Vallance’s advice to “go early”. Argar replied:

I think what Patrick’s saying there is you’ve got to look ahead …

I think what Patrick is saying is always look to the future, consider when is the right moment to act … I don’t think we’re at that point yet.

But actually that isn’t really what Vallance has been saying at all; Vallance’s argument is that the right moment to act is normally before it is considered necessary.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The Department for Education publishes school absence figures for England for autumn 2020 and spring 2021.

10am: Prof Sir Ian Diamdon, head of the Office for National Statistics, gives evidence to the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee.

11am: The Department of Health and Social Care publishes its weekly test and trace figures.

11am: Boris Johnson attends a service at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh to commemorate the centenary of Northern Ireland.

12.45pm: Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, gives a speech on how pensions can contribute to net zero.

Also, the Welsh government is today publishing its health and social care winter plan.

I expect to be covering Covid a lot today, but for wider coronavirus developments, do read our global live blog.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com

Edward Argar.

Edward Argar. Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.