Professor Neil Ferguson has urged workers not to rush back to offices, undermining the Government’s public messaging
‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson was quietly allowed to continue advising the Government’s scientific advisory panel, it was revealed today.
No10 said he would no longer attend key SAGE meetings about Covid after he was caught breaking social distancing rules to meet his married lover during Britain’s first lockdown.
The epidemiologist was behind Imperial College London’s terrifying modelling that warned up to 500,000 Britons could die unless tougher action was taken. It spooked Boris Johnson into adopting the draconian restrictions in the first place.
But Downing Street confirmed today that Professor Ferguson continued to sit on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) committee and the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).
Both groups feed data into SAGE and NERVTAG was partly responsible for pushing the Government into cancelling Christmas for 16million people due to its gloomy warnings about the new mutant strain.
The revelation comes despite No10 claiming in May that Professor Ferguson had stood down from all groups related to SAGE.
Asked if he was still attending NERVTAG, the PM’s spokesperson said at the time: ‘NERVTAG is part of SAGE, so the answer is no, Professor Ferguson will no longer attend, participate or contribute to SAGE meetings.’
But when pressed by today, the spokesperson said: ‘I think we have previously set out that he continued to advise in his roles on SPI-M and NERVTAG, given that he is one of the world’s leading epidemiologists. But just to state again, he has not attended SAGE since he stood down.’
Professor Ferguson was perhaps the second most high profile lockdown breaker to keep his job despite flouting the rules after Dominic Cummings, who infamously drove 30 miles from Durham to Barnard Castle to ‘check his eyesight’ in April despite being suspected of having Covid.
Professor Ferguson has kept a low profile since his scandal in May, appearing only rarely for a radio or television interview. But minutes from the NERVTAG meeting last Friday to discuss which the new mutant strain revealed the scientist attended the crucial meeting
Professor Ferguson has kept a low profile since his scandal in May, appearing only rarely for radio or television interviews.
But minutes from the NERVTAG meeting last Friday to discuss which the new mutant strain revealed the scientist attended the crucial discussion.
It signals the shamed professor played a major role in researching the variant that triggered the dramatic cancellation of Christmas.
Boris Johnson sparked fury on Saturday night after he cancelled Christmas for more than 16million people living in London and across the South East. Shops, gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons were ordered to shut again, with residents told not to leave Tier Four.
In his embarrassing U-turn, the Prime Minister – who last week claimed it would be ‘inhuman’ to cancel Christmas – also slashed a festive amnesty from five days to just one for the rest of the UK.
During one of his rare public appearances, Professor Ferguson today claimed the harshest curbs could ‘possibly’ have to stay until the spring and admitted Britain was now in a race to vaccinate people.
He warned Britain’s situation was ‘not looking optimistic right now’, saying it was now a simple race to ‘get vaccines in people’s arms’ because the virus couldn’t be stopped any other way.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The Government gets criticised for changing policy all the time.
‘This virus is unpredictable, how people behave is unpredictable, so we will track the epidemic as we always have done. Policy will be formed on the basis of that.
‘The tiers are reviewed every two weeks and will continue to be reviewed. But I certainly agree it’s not looking optimistic right now.
In May it emerged Professor Ferguson, then 51, asked his mistress Antonia Staats, 38, to travel across London to his home at least twice despite lecturing 66million in Britain on the need to stay apart to stop the spread of the killer virus.
The epidemiologist, director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College, London, authored the report containing the apocalyptic prediction that coronavirus could kill 500,000 Britons – convincing the Prime Minister he had to lockdown the country from March 23.
The epidemiologist said in a statement at the time: ‘I accept I made an error of judgment and took the wrong course of action. I have therefore stepped back from my involvement in Sage [the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies].
‘I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus, and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms.
‘I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing to control this devastating epidemic. The Government guidance is unequivocal, and is there to protect all of us.’
Who knew what and when about Britain’s Covid mutation?
September 20: Patient in Kent became the first person to test positive for the new strain. At that point, the UK was recording just 3,700 new cases of the virus each day.
Mid-October: The sample wasn’t analysed until weeks later at Public Health England’s Lighthouse Lab in Milton Keynes, where experts are studying genomic sequences of Covid-19 to keep track of its mutations.
Not all mutations are logged as new strains as soon as they are found, because some fade away or turn out to be totally insignificant, which may explain why ministers were not alerted to its existence.
December 11: The government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Advisory Group (NERVTAG) committee first discussed VUI-202012/01 on 11 December, one of its members, Professor Andrew Hayward, told Sky News.
December 13: A total of 1,108 cases associated with the strain had been detected by PHE, although this is likely to be an underestimate because PHE is sent random swab samples to analyse, rather than every positive test.
December 14: Health Secretary Matt Hancock is briefed by Government scientists about the strain, known as VUI – 202012/01.
SAGE had been struggling to work out why infections continued to rise in the South East during the national lockdown, which drove cases down in every other part of the country.
Mr Hancock broke the news to the public at a Downing Street press conference, saying the variant may have been behind the surge in infections in London and Kent.
December 16: Boris Johnson promises plans to relax lockdown for Christmas get-togethers would still go ahead, saying it would be ‘frankly inhuman’ to scrap the move.
December 19: Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance attended a meeting of Nervtag – the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group – to discuss the severity of the strain.
Professor Neil Ferguson – the top scientific adviser who quit SAGE after breaking lockdown rules to see his married lover – was one of the experts in attendance
December 20: Key findings showing from the meeting showing the variant was 70 per cent more transmissible were presented by the Chief Medical Officer to Boris Johnson the following morning.
However, minutes from the meeting published revealed the expert committee had in fact only ‘moderate confidence’ that the new strain was more transmissible than other variants.
Mr Johnson used an evening press conference to announce new Tier Four restrictions for London and the South East, crushing Christmas plans for 16million people.
December 21: More than a dozen countries – including France, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Canada – banned travel to and from the UK as part of an international crackdown to contain the mutant strain.