Why Sage expert Jeremy Farrar has walked out

Top scientist quits government advisory body as he warns the pandemic is ‘a long way from over’

Jeremy Farrar
(Image credit: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP via Getty Images )

A top expert for the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has quit the advisory body as he warned that levels of coronavirus transmission across the UK were “concerning”.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, who is director of the Wellcome Trust and a leading member of the Covid advisory body, left Sage at the end of October, he confirmed in a statement.

The leading scientist was pushing ministers to adopt a “vaccine plus” strategy, calling for more mask-wearing, ventilation and continued coronavirus testing to help the country get through a difficult winter, reported Sky News.

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But the government has so far resisted calls to enforce stricter Covid rules under its so-called Plan B measures, instead choosing to continue with its current guidance.

In a statement released on Tuesday night, Farrar confirmed that he stepped down to focus on his work at the health research foundation the Wellcome Trust.

But he warned that “the Covid-19 crisis is a long way from over” and outlined the “huge pressure” the scientific advisory body had faced during the pandemic.

“The high levels of transmission seen in the UK remain concerning, but I stepped down as a participant of Sage knowing ministers had been provided with most of the key science advice needed over the winter months,” he continued.

“Throughout this crisis, Sage has provided vital evidence and independent, expert, transparent advice to support the UK response, often under huge pressure.

“It has been an honour to have joined the hundreds of scientists who have contributed, and I thank Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty for outstanding leadership. I remain, as always, available where I may offer help as a clinical scientist or as director of Wellcome.”

The statement appeared to be a “coded criticism of the government’s stance” that stricter measures are not currently necessary, said The Independent.

And it will add to the suspicions of experts who have previously suggested that ministers have “pushed back” against scientific advice in an attempt to avoid long-term damage to the UK economy through further lockdowns, making the job of advisors “difficult”, said Sky News.

In July of this year, Farrar said he “seriously considered” resigning from Sage nearly a year before, after the government chose not to introduce a lockdown in September 2020, continued the broadcaster.

So far the government has insisted that the data does not yet show that stricter Covid measures, or enforcing Plan B, are necessary. Yet there is some evidence that the government has “seriously” looked at implementing the Plan B strategy this winter until the end of March 2022, after Politico obtained government documents that suggested a switch to the more stringent Covid rules could cost the UK economy up to £18bn in damage.

“We can confirm that Sir Jeremy has stood down from the Covid Sage activation, and thank him for his contribution from the very start of the activation,” said a government spokesperson.

“Sage continues to provide Government with independent expert scientific and technical advice.”

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