Vallance wants special pandemic advisory group set-up in wake of Covid

SAGE 2.0? Sir Patrick Vallance wants special pandemic advisory group set-up in wake of Covid and says it should include economists

  • Patrick Vallance said such a group would give insight into the ‘difficult trade offs’
  • He admitted many models are being considered by he prefers a ‘hub and spoke’

Sir Patrick Vallance wants a special pandemic advisory group set up in the wake of the pandemic.

Addressing the Covid Inquiry today, the Government’s ex-chief scientific adviser said the proposed pandemic preparedness centre should include economists.

His suggestion follows criticism that advice offered to No10 on the pandemic failed to assess the financial costs of lockdown. 

Sir Patrick said the inclusion of economists would help assess the ‘difficult trade-offs that occur’ during a pandemic emergency. 

He said many different models are being looked at, but he favours a ‘hub and spoke’ model.

Addressing the Covid Inquiry, Sit Patrick Vallance said he wants a special pandemic advisory group set up in the wake of the Covid pandemic

Addressing the Covid Inquiry, England’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty apologised for his rapid responses, admitting ‘my enthusiasm is running away with me’

This would, theoretically, see a single physical base for research that would extend to involve many universities that integrate different disciplines.

He added that individual academics would not spend all of their time working on pandemics, but a range of specialists could give 10 per cent to create an overall ‘critical mass’.

He called the proposed idea ‘advantageous’ for the UK, and said it would be an important part of integrating new challenges.

His comments followed those of Sir Chris Whitty, the Government’s chief medical advisor who also gave evidence at the inquiry today. 

Sir Chris was also questioned about how economic advice could be better incorporated into the evidence offered to Government during pandemics. 

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He cautioned against any token inclusion of economists in the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which offered ministers expert advice on health issues during the pandemic.

‘If you had two economists on SAGE, you would not be in a situation where SAGE would suddenly become an economically extraordinarily competent body,’ he said. 

‘It would be a competent, scientific body with two economists on it which does not strike me as actually answering any terribly useful questions.’

While estimates vary, analysis suggests lockdown may have cost the nation £500m every day in lost output. 

During today’s enquiry Sir Chris was also repeatedly told to slow down by officials as he gave evidence on the country’s preparedness for the pandemic.

The inquiry’s chief lawyer Hugo Keith KC said: ‘Could I – I apologise – just ask you to make your answers a little bit slower.

‘Whilst, I may say so, your evidence is wonderfully clear, it is difficult to transcribe,’ he added.

Sir Chris apologised, saying: ‘My enthusiasm is running away with me.’

The Inquiry’s chair, Baroness Hallett, also remarked that the probe’s stenographers ‘are looking panicked’.

It came just moments after he slammed the abuse levelled at the country’s top scientists during the pandemic.

He called the abuse targeted at the independent experts that sit on SAGE ‘extremely concerning’.

He also told the probe that the UK should be ‘very firm’ in saying it ‘appreciates the work of these people’.

As many as 70 witnesses will contribute to the first module on pandemic preparedness.

Ex-health secretary Matt Hancock, and former first minister for Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, and the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency Dame Jenny Harries will be among next week’s witnesses. 

Mr Hancock is expected to give evidence on Tuesday while Ms Sturgeon and her former deputy John Swinney will appear on Thursday.

Dame Jenny, a former deputy chief medical officer for England, will also appear on Monday.

The first module will run for six weeks, until 20 July. The probe is not expected to conclude until 2026.

A separate Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry chaired by Lord Brailsford is looking at the pandemic response in devolved areas in Scotland.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said he and the Welsh government are fully committed to the inquiry, though they maintain that there is no need for Wales to hold its own inquiry. 

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